Think about the last time you either tossed and turned all night or had only 4-5 hours of sleep? You may or may not have been on a weight loss journey but you probably woke up to the sound of your alarm buzzing, feeling tired, lethargic and unmotivated. A large coffee later, and you might relax into your couch instead of heading to exercise, because you are so tired. Maybe you head into work and have a big, fat, slice of cake for your colleague’s birthday. Oh, and this is after you had a sneaky egg McMuffin because you were running late. Sound familiar? This paints a picture of how easy it is to make decisions that you may not have made if you had a good night’s sleep and you were feeling normal or even energised. It’s a little bit like being drunk, or hungover - and you are basically set up for failure before the day has even started.Diet and exercise are critical to the success of your weight loss regimen - but have you considered sleep as an important factor as well?
If the answer is no, you are definitely not alone. Many people focus solely on diet and exercise when they are trying to lose weight, but studies show just how important quality sleep is for weight loss.
A few things happen inside our bodies when we go without adequate sleep that inherently cause us to biologically self-sabotage.
Lack of sleep of poor quality sleep can actually result in insulin resistance. Insulin is a hormone that transports sugar from the bloodstream into the cells in your body, to be converted to and used as energy. Basically, this means that sugar remains in the bloodstream and causes the body to make even MORE insulin; which results in excess hunger and the body stores more calories as fat, often in places like it shouldn’t be stored, like the liver. As you can imagine, this sounds like the perfect storm inside your body and can lead to diabetes as well as weight gain.
Leptin and Ghrelin
Two other hormones, leptin and ghrelin, are affected by lack of sleep and they basically regulate your hunger levels. Leptin is a hormone produced in your fat cells that tells you when you are full and when you need to start to burn calories, whereas ghrelin stimulates hunger, decreases your metabolism and increased fat storage. Lack of sleep, even over just several days increases ghrelin and decreases leptin production - resulting in more unwarranted hunger, less saitiation, and more fat storage from the excess calories that you are consuming. Studies have showed that sleeping less than six hours sends signals to your brain saying you need more food while also decreasing leptin and stimulating ghrelin.
Now, we’ve spoken about cortisol before, in terms of it being the body’s response to stress, and lack of sleep can stimulate cortisol production as well - which leads you to into the ‘pleasure-seeking’ part of your brain and can cause you to crave unhealthy food and increase the storage of fat.
Sleep and Workouts
If that wasn’t bad enough, lack of sleep and/or poor quality of sleep directly impacts your exercise regimen as well! Lack of sleep makes it more difficult for your body to recover from your workouts, by decreasing the production of growth hormone. This is significant as this hormone helps your body to burn fat and fight ageing, as well as also assists your body to recover from strenuous exercise. Some studies even suggest that more sleep can actually enhance your performance during exercise!
Not only that, but have you ever tried to do a workout when you have a severe sleep debt? It’s not only difficult to get your body moving, but to sustain a normal intensity and duration is exceptionally difficult.
Hit the Hay - and Stay There For 7-9 Hours
Sleep is exceptionally underrated by many people when it comes to piecing together a diet and exercise plan for weight loss. Experts suggest that people require between 7-9 hours of sleep per night to function optimally the following day - physically AND mentally. My views towards weight loss are rooted in the idea that you should make small lifestyle changes, create healthier habits and become more self-aware in order to create the new lifestyle that you desire. Monitoring sleep and ensuring that you get enough quality sleep every night is 100% a part of the process. But HOW Do I Get to Sleep? So what do you do when you can’t get to sleep? Here are some top tips on how to get to sleep quickly!
- Studies show that cool temperatures and complete darkness create the ideal scenario for you to fall asleep in - and stay asleep! Perhaps turn on a fan, use one less blanket, kick one foot out the side and buy a cheap, soft, sleeping eye mask to wear over your eyes!
- Disconnect an hour before you would like to be asleep. Shut down your phone, computer and television and get ready for bed. You can read, crochet, meditate, journal etc in bed with soft bedside table lamp light in easy access to turn off.
- If switching off is not an option, try putting your phone on Do Not Disturb mode and using the computer and phone on night mode (where the screen is a soft yellow and dim and instead of harsh blue light).
- Eat something! Have a small snack before bed if you feel like you will really struggle. A small, carb snack (small being >100 calories) that will result in your body producing seratonin and tryptophan, which may help you get to sleep.
- Take supplements. Not only can magnesium help you fall asleep but it actually also assists your muscles in recovery from exercise while you sleep.
- Turn on an audio guided meditation or visualisation to help calm you mind and send you off into a good nights sleep.
- Prioritise exercise, but try to get it in at least 3 hours before you go to sleep - as exercise can also act as a stimulant and keep you up if done too late!
- Limit or eliminate naps from your day as they can disrupt your sleep cycle and result in you staying up later and later. The regularity of your sleep cycle is directly relative to your body’s ability to function optimally.
- Make a list of what you need to accomplish the next day, reflect on the day you have had - before you head to bed. This could be journaling, which will help you get all of your worries and anxieties out and organised so that you can go to bed and rest assured that you have not forgotten anything and your day ahead is planned.
- Try yoga - a simple 5 or 10 minute flow can relax the body and mind.
- Melatonin - the natural supplement melatonin can help you get to sleep and is sold at most health food stores, online and pharmacies. Please make sure to read the directions and only take as directed - as with any sleep aids, take only as needed or recommended by your doctor as your body can become dependant on them.
Sleep and Weight Loss
The chemical and hormonal changes within your body do not take very long to kick in, after only a few days in a sleep debt, you will notice negative changes in your body, appetite and motivation. Also, without high-quality sleep and reaching the correct stages of sleep, your body will decrease production of hormones that assist in muscle recovery, fat-burning and anti-ageing. Ignoring sleep as a factor in your weight loss journey is like ignoring an oil check on your car - and you wouldn’t do that, would you?
Community Support for Your Journey Towards Healthier Habits
My tribe is comprised of an amazing community of women who has committed to a journey to create healthier habits and lifestyle changes this year. Although we have not yet dedicated a month to monitoring sleep yet, it will come in the later half of the year. If you would like to join a supportive, active and engaged community focussed on changing their lives, together, check out our private Facebook group and put in a request to join!