Sleep and weight: What's the connection? Here's how you can get better sleep to help lose weight
- 3 Minutes Read
Poor sleep and weight struggles often go hand-in-hand. Learn how to get quality rest to feel your best and support your weight-loss goals.
Are you getting enough sleep? According to the National Sleep Foundation, most adults need 7-9 hours of sleep a night. While the exact reasons aren't yet clear, insufficient sleep is consistently associated with higher weight.
To gain insight into how sleep affects weight, and how to get a better night's sleep, I spoke with Dr. Kelli Janata, director of the Sleep Clinic at UCHealth Longs Peak Hospital in Longmont, Colorado.
While there are numerous reasons for poor sleep, Dr. Janata reports that stress is the most common lifestyle cause of poor sleep that she observes. "People can't shut their minds down at night, so they have a hard time sleeping, and wake up during the night and can't fall back asleep," she explains. She adds that turning to sleep-disrupting electronic devices or stressful work projects can create a vicious cycle of waking and not falling back asleep.
Nighttime exposure to light can make it more difficult to fall asleep. Light from electronic devices contains a higher level of blue light, which decreases the production of the sleep-regulating hormone melatonin.
While stress and anxiety commonly rob sleep, don't overlook possible medical reasons. Dr. Janata suggests you talk to your doctor if you get 8 hours of sleep but still wake feeling groggy, have daytime sleepiness, wake up gasping for air, snore, or if someone has witnessed your breathing stops during the night. If you have these symptoms, you should get screened for obstructive sleep apnea, which causes difficulty breathing while sleeping. Dr. Janata stresses the importance of treating OSA since it comes with major health risks, including increased risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.
Unfortunately, inadequate sleep affects more than your energy levels. It can sabotage your weight-loss efforts. Research shows a relationship between sleep, appetite, metabolic hormones, hunger, and cravings.
Insufficient sleep can alter hormones related to eating and appetite, decreasing the appetite-suppressing hormone leptin and increasing the appetite-enhancing hormone ghrelin. This double-whammy of increased hunger levels and decreased satiety makes it very difficult to control portions, despite your best intentions.
Inadequate sleep doesn't just make you more hungry; it may affect cravings and taste perception. One study found a connection between sleepiness and study participants' perception of sour and savory tastes and increased craving for sweet, fatty foods. Even one night of poor sleep can increase hunger, cravings, and amount of food eaten. Sleep deprivation may even increase activity in the brain's reward center in response to food, making sweet treats even more appealing.
Sleep deprivation ultimately leads to eating more calories. A review of 41 studies reported that study participants ate an average of 243 more calories daily when sleep deprived. These extra calories could result in significant weight gain over time!
Dr. Janata points out that, fortunately, normalizing sleep likely improves all of these negative consequences.
While getting a good night's sleep can feel elusive, try one of these strategies to improve your sleep.
"First and foremost, keep a consistent sleep/wake schedule, even on weekends," states Dr. Janata. This means going to bed about the same time each night and waking the same time each morning, even though it may be tempting to sleep in!
Implement a soothing bedtime routine, such as reading, listening to music, or meditating. These relaxing activities shortly before bedtime can help you get into sleep mode. A warm bath or shower an hour or two before bedtime may help as the body's core temperature increases, then and gradually cools down, promoting sleepiness.
Dr. Janata recommends avoiding screens two hours before sleep and keeping screens out of the bedroom. If you must use electronics in the evening, use blue-light-blocking glasses and "nighttime modes" on your electronic devices. However, they don't negate electronics' effects. She adds, "It's not just the light. The content of what appears on the screens can make it hard to unwind."
A cool, dark, and quiet bedroom sets the stage for better sleep. Make your bedroom a relaxing environment free of clutter and distractions to develop a strong association with sleep. Dr. Janata notes that the bed should be used for only two things, sleep and sex.
Avoid excess eating at night, especially if you suffer from heartburn. While your cup of coffee may get you going in the morning, Dr. Janata advises avoiding caffeine past noon. Though some people swear caffeine doesn't keep them awake, caffeine still interferes with restful sleep. A nighttime cocktail may help you fall asleep at first, but alcohol can disrupt sleep later in the night, leading to overall worse sleep.
Research shows that exercise helps people fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer. Exposure to natural light throughout the day promotes more rest at night. At the same time, exercising any time of day encourages improved sleep. Worried about exercise being too stimulating at night? Dr. Janata says that this is not a problem for most people.
Insufficient sleep presents multiple challenges to weight loss. While your first goal may be to get better sleep, minimize weight gain by taking charge of your food choices in the meantime. Tracking with MyNetDiary is a great way to keep excess calories from sneaking up on you.
If you tend to get little or poor-quality sleep, know you are more vulnerable to high-sugar and high-fat foods, and keep them out of sight to avoid temptation.