Weight Loss Trouble Part Two: Sleep

In the second part of "Weight Loss Trouble" series, we’ll explore the importance of sleep on reaching and maintaining a healthy weight. Lack of sleep alters your hormones and much like stress will cause you to crave foods that are less healthy and at the same time make it harder to lose fat.

Inadequate sleep alters the hormones and chemicals that regulate hunger and fullness in the body. Meaning when you don’t have a good night sleep you are going to feel hungrier during the day. Cravings for sweets, fatty foods and carbohydrates also increase. Lack of sleep may also slow down your metabolism and make it harder to lose weight and even cause weight gain. A study found that keeping calorie intake the same, participants who decreased their sleep for two weeks had 55% less fat loss.

Lack of sleep also leads to lower mental functioning, meaning on top of chemically craving more food and not being able to gauge fullness, you also have less mental willpower to make good decisions. Individuals who stay up late also tend to eat more in the evening, which can also lead to weight gain.

Sleep needs vary from person to person, but most adults are healthiest when they receive between seven and nine hours each night. This should consist of quality sleep, ideally uninterrupted. How you feel in the morning is a good indicator of the quality and quantity of sleep you’re receiving. You should ideally be refreshed in the morning, not dragging out of bed.

Tips to Improve Sleep:

  • Having a habitual routine that you go through every night prior to bed actually helps train your body and mind to go to sleep. It’s like a Pavlovian response. Whether you have five minutes or an hour, put together a routine and make sure you stick to it. This may include taking a shower or bath, brushing your teeth, doing some stretching, mediation, or journaling. Find what helps you disengage and make time for it. You can put a sticky note in your bathroom of your routine and set a timer on your phone so you can start to train the new behavior. Over time it will help you fall asleep more easily.
  • Dark space & nix the electronics. Turning off all the lights, using black out curtains and removing electronics can help ensure the room is dark enough for optimum sleep. Light from electronics and light bulbs has blue light which reduces melatonin production, meaning the artificial light you are exposing yourself to in the evening is working against your efforts to sleep well. On top of the light exposure, electronics are often too stimulating especially if you’re checking work email or looking at your finances. The goal is to help your mind quiet down.
  • Calm your mind. Meditation, journaling, stretching or reading something that isn’t too intriguing can help you shut off your thoughts. Taking a walk outside or a warm bath or shower are other great options.
  • Catch some rays at dusk and dawn. The light emitted when the sun rises and sets is very different and actually helps your brain and body function better when you’re exposed to it. Light in the morning will help wake you up and increase appropriate hormones, while being outside at dusk can help increase melatonin production and ease you into a better night’s sleep.
  • Don’t eat a heavy meal before bed. Ideally stop eating two to three hours before bed unless you’re struggling to gain weight. You want your energy to go towards repair and recovery while you’re asleep rather than digesting a stomach full of food.
  • Stop drinking water two hours prior if you wake up because you need to use the restroom. Hydration is important, but if you wake up to go to the bathroom and have a hard time falling back asleep, try to cut out liquids a couple hours before bedtime. Make sure you are drinking enough throughout the day to meet your needs.

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