Sleep Health

Sleep and Weight Loss

Learn how sleep can impact your weight and how to sleep your way to fewer pounds.

By Hannah Clarke

We all know that sleep is important…but how does it correlate with losing weight? Can getting enough shut-eye really impact our waistline? We’re going to delve into the nitty gritty details behind a getting a good night’s sleep, what happens when there is a lack of sleep, and how this can relate to losing (or sometimes gaining) weight!

How Much Sleep Do I Need?

When we think of sleep, most of us probably imagine laying down at night, closing our eyes, and waking back up again in the morning…. hopefully refreshed and alert! Interestingly enough, sleep health actually delves much deeper. In fact, multiple studies across many different dimensions have narrowed the broad topic of sleep down to five main subtopics: these include sleep duration, sleep efficiency, sleep quality, sleep alertness, and sleep timing.

Sleep duration is how many hours of sleep we get within a twenty-four-hour period. Sleep efficiency relates to how quickly we can lay down, relax, and actually fall asleep. Sleep quality is just that; us referring to having a good or bad night’s sleep. Sleep alertness is how well we are actually wide awake and alert during the day, outside of sleep hours. Lastly, is sleep timing, and that is the time of the day when we are choosing to rest.

These factors aren’t all typically thought of before we lay down at night, and there are many more realms to sleep overall; however, these five foundational observations help to give us an overall picture of our health and wellness. According to the NSF, or the National Sleep Foundation, people over the age of 18 should be averaging seven to nine hours a night; do you fall into that category?

How Lack of Sleep Impacts Health

Not getting enough shut-eye (or in some cases, getting way too much) can have drastic impacts on our health; our body rests while we’re asleep, and not giving it enough time to restore can lead to issues like increased blood pressure, stroke, cardiovascular disease…and even obesity.

Now, there are many ways in which this can happen; for instance, a hormone in our bodies that is responsible for endorsing hunger is increased when we are sleep deprived. On the other hand, another hormone that lets us know when we’re full is decreased with lack of sleep. With these factors working against us, it’s easy to see how being overweight can be kickstarted by a thing as simple – or not so simple – as sleep.

Common Sleep Disorders

According to researchers at the University of Chicago, over fifty million people suffer from some kind of disorder that impacts not only their sleep quality but their overall life. A condition called sleep apnea is one of the top disorders when it comes to poor sleep, and this occurs when tissue in your throat causes your airway to close, leading to staggered breathing and fluctuating oxygen levels.

Insomnia is another common sleep disorder, along with restless legs syndrome and narcolepsy. Left untreated, all of these can pose major risks to health, and poor sleep quality.

With the late-night hours and early morning rushes of life, it’s easy to see how we can miss getting our recommended seven to nine hours a night of beauty sleep. This goes back to the hormones we were talking about earlier, the ones that regulate our hunger pains and feeling full. There is a huge correlation between the hours of shut-eye that we get and our body’s response to food; not only are internal hormone changes negatively affected with lack of sleep but so is the response to burning calories. In essence, being tired and groggy is probably not going to inspire one to go hit the pavement for a few miles run, right? Studies have shown that fatigue leads us towards being more sedentary, which in turn lowers our energy output…. which can then lead to weight gain.

Sleep, Stress, and Our Waistlines

Interestingly enough, stress levels in our daily lives can lead to poor sleep habits as well. Not getting enough hours of sleep per night can impair how well we deal with how our bodies respond to stress, which is essentially releasing more of a hormone called cortisol into the bloodstream. The more of this particular stress hormone we’re producing, the harder it is for us to fall asleep at nighttime. Sounds like a vicious cycle, doesn’t it?

Thankfully, there are ways to manage our sleep and weight lifestyles. With improved diet and exercise, we can reach the recommended hours of sleep per night. We can also learn how to improve our sleep routines as well! So, how can this happen? You can begin on your track to weight loss by aiming to go to bed at the same time each night, and getting up around the same time each morning (even on the weekends). Some folks might only need 7 hours of sleep, while some might need more. Play around with how much you’re actually getting, and find what works best for you and what makes you the most productive and active during the day.

Improving Habits to Improve Sleep

Some other ideas for improving sleep include turning off electronics at least an hour before going to bed, reducing caffeine and alcohol intake, and having a relaxing bedtime routine (for instance, taking a bath or reading a book to wind down a bit). With these factors combined, you can aim to improve sleep, decrease the risk of disease, and achieve a slimmer waistline.

Now that we know how to improve our sleep and how it coordinates with our weight goals, let’s talk about diet. You might wonder how what you eat can mess with your sleep cycles; interestingly enough, our bodies process a lot while we’re asleep, and food is one of those things!

How Does What You Eat Affect Your Sleep?

For example, the Paleo diet (and other low-carb options) is popular in diet culture at the moment. This type of lifestyle essentially eliminates grains and dairy from the diet, and incorporates more of the foods that our ancestors would have eaten; this includes fruits, vegetables, meats, and seeds/nuts. With this particular style of dieting, there is typically fewer calories being consumed, which could lead to the inability to sleep…. popularly known as insomnia.

This happens due to the fact that carbs increase tryptophan, which switches over to serotonin, and helps us get to sleep. However, protein does the opposite – it increases stimulants in the brain, which keep us awake and alert. So how does this affect our sleep? Decreasing carbs (and therefore, serotonin levels) and increasing protein (therefore increasing stimulants in the brain) can lead to a sleepless night.

If you’re choosing to go more high protein/lower carb with your dietary choices, there’s nothing wrong with that! These diets can help with weight loss, as well as stabilizing blood sugar levels. However, if you’re noticing that you’re not getting quality sleep at night, or you’re waking up and not falling back to sleep as quickly as you were before, then slowly remove the heavy carbohydrate foods you were eating before, instead of quitting them altogether. Everyone’s body will react differently, so you’ll have to find what works best for you and your overall sleep quality.

Drinking Enough Water: A Sleep Interference

Another interference with our sleep is what we are drinking. Granted, this can be with water or alcohol! Essentially, you want to be drinking half of your body weight in ounces every day of water. Consuming all of that liquid during the day can be a challenge in and of itself, so if you’re drinking later on into the evening and night to meet your water intake goal, it can definitely interrupt your sleep quality – especially since there’s a good chance you’re going to be getting up and going to the bathroom at some point during the night! If you know you’re one of many who are stumbling to the bathroom in the middle of the night (and then subsequently can’t fall back asleep very well afterward), then you might want to think about limiting your intake at some point earlier in the evening.

As for alcohol consumption, many studies have shown that even though alcohol can initially make you sleepy, it can cause you to wake up earlier in the mornings and toss and turn more at night. It has also been studied that alcohol consumption can increase the risk of sleep apnea as well. This doesn’t mean that you have to give up alcohol forever – but, it would suggest that indulging in moderation is key…and a glass of water afterward wouldn’t hurt either!

Hunger Pains and Sleeping

Lastly, those hunger pains! Having a growling belly while heading to bed isn’t going to lend to a quality night’s rest if that’s what you’re going to be hearing for a few hours. There’s nothing wrong with having a light snack before bedtime, but not something so heavy that your body will have issues digesting it. Smaller, healthier choices include a banana, a glass of almond milk, some yogurt, or a couple of crackers to calm the rumbling belly noises and allow you to sleep peacefully through the night.

With a combination of healthy sleep habits and positive dietary behaviors, you should be on your way to a relaxing and restorative night of sleep – remember though, everyone is different, so you’ll have to find the routine that works best for you and your schedule, as well as your health goals.


About the Author

Hannah Clarke

Hannah is a certified ACE Health Coach and NASM Personal Trainer and uses an integrative approach to health and wellness to improve the quality of lives of those around her. With a love of weightlifting, running with her pup, and snowboarding, Hannah uses her Master’s Degree in Fitness and Wellness to guide those around her on their journey towards a healthier lifestyle. From commercial fitness centers to corporate environments to one-on-one interactions, Hannah’s 10 plus years of experience in the fitness realm helps to encourage and challenge the people that she meets – not only to achieve their goals but to become the best version of themselves!

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