Sleep is like your body’s reset button. During sleep, your body and brain are hard at work growing, repairing, processing, and digesting so that you can wake up alert, energized, and ready to tackle your day. It’s so important that you need 7 to 8 hours of it every single night. (1)
And if you skip out on those needed hours of shut-eye, everything from your immune health to your mood to your cognitive functioning will suffer. (1,2) Including your weight loss goals! That’s because there’s a strong relationship between sleep and healthy body weight. (3)
This doesn’t mean sleeping all day is the key to knocking off a few pounds. But if you’re consistently getting less than 7 hours each night, your brain and your body will feel the effects.
The Connection Between Sleep & Weight Loss
What role does sleep play in maintaining a healthy body weight? Here are some of the ways that you might start feeling the effects of a loss of sleep on your weight loss goals:
Tired Brain, Bad Decision Making
Think about the last time you felt sleep-deprived. Did you make healthy food choices? Lace up your shoes to go for a run? For most people operating on empty, that’s not the case.
When you’re feeling tired it’s easy to make unhealthy choices. You start seeking out comfort food, you’re too tired to exercise, and you’re more likely to spend your time on the couch than being active throughout the day. (4)
A lazy, sleepy day now and again is normal. But if a lack of sleep becomes a regular pattern it makes a healthier lifestyle that much more difficult to achieve. Not only is your body tired, but your brain (including your decision-making frontal lobe!) is tired. And a tired brain does not make smart decisions. (5)
A tired brain prefers reward-seeking behaviors in an attempt to feel better. Unfortunately, research shows that this often comes in the form of bigger servings, junk food cravings, or late-night snacking that quickly squash all your weight loss progress. (5)
Less Sleep, Slower Metabolism
Without 7 to 8 hours of sleep, you’re operating on a low battery. And when this happens repeatedly, you’re forcing the brain and body to adapt to the limited hours of shut-eye you’re giving them.
As a result, your brain unleashes a spike in stress hormones called cortisol. These hormones signal to the body that it needs to conserve energy to make it through the day. In other words, sleep deprivation slows down your metabolism. (5)
Without sleep, your body also struggles with another hormone: insulin. Insulin helps convert sugar into energy, so it’s pretty important for keeping your metabolism and energy levels in check. But in just four days of not getting enough sleep, your insulin sensitivity drops 30%. This throws your metabolism out of whack and your body ends up converting more calories to fat than energy. (5)
Your metabolism isn’t operating at full capacity because your body can’t operate at full capacity without sleep. Add onto this the fact that you’re more likely to eat high-carb foods while exhausted, and you’ve got yourself a calorie overload problem. (5)
This was the case during a study on two groups of dieters consuming the same amount of calories. Researchers found that those cutting back on sleep felt more hungry and unsatisfied than those who got a full night’s rest. And those without sleep also had a harder time losing weight. (5)
By getting more sleep you can help return your metabolism (and your hormones) to a normal and healthy state. This keeps your digestive system running smoothly so you’re not facing an uphill battle with your weight loss goals.
Disrupted Hormones, Change in Appetite
Speaking of hormones, there are two more that need mentioning when it comes to the relationship between sleep and eating. These are ghrelin and leptin.
Ghrelin is a hormone sent from your stomach that signals when it’s time to eat. Leptin does the opposite. It sends the signal to your brain that your cells have enough energy and it’s time to stop eating. (4)
But when you aren’t getting enough sleep, your body has a harder time regulating these hormones. As a result, you’re likely to produce less leptin and more ghrelin. (3) This means your appetite is a lot more ravenous than usual and there’s not as strong a signal to stop eating.
Tips for Better (And More) Sleep
Clearly, sleep is pretty crucial for your health and weight loss goals! Yet more than a third of Americans aren’t getting enough. (5) So how can you build more of this all-important shut-eye into your routine?
Here are some strategies that could help: (3,4,5)
- Start a nighttime routine: Instead of immediately going from the stress of your day to trying to fall asleep, build in a nighttime routine. By performing the same activities each night you’ll start training your brain to expect sleep.
- Perform relaxing activities: A nighttime routine can include any activity that you find relaxing. Like reading a book, meditating, journaling, enjoying a bubble bath, or starting a skincare routine.
- No screens: As part of your transition to bedtime, turn off all screens (think: phones, TV, laptops) at least an hour before you go to bed. The bright lights stimulate your brain and make it harder to fall asleep.
- Exercise: Working out is exhausting! A regular workout routine helps you feel more tired and less stressed so you can fall asleep faster.
- Avoid caffeine: If you’re sensitive to caffeine, avoid any high-caffeine foods or beverages close to bedtime. Reserve those for the mornings only if you need them!
- Follow your circadian rhythm: Our bodies run on a 24-hour clock called your circadian rhythm. But that clock operates on a different schedule depending on whether you’re a night owl or an early bird. Stick to your circadian rhythm as much as you can so you fall asleep when you’re tired and wake up when you’re rested.
- Stick to a schedule: Once you find a routine that works for you and your circadian rhythm, stick with it! When you keep to a sleep schedule, this makes it easier for your body to know when it’s time to fall asleep or wake up.
- Talk to a specialist: If you’re struggling with falling or staying asleep it might be time to bring in the pros! They can offer personalized suggestions for getting the sleep you need.
Looking for more weight loss tips and healthy eating strategies? Head to our blog for more!