Are you one of those ‘it’s midnight but just one more episode’ types of people? There is no shame in that. I know I’m guilty of doing this too. Hey, maybe if shows weren’t as entertaining I’d go to sleep sooner. 2/3 of adults fail to get the recommended hours of sleep. Increasing research is showing that improved and increased sleep could help you lose weight.
Sleep is like the swiss-army knife of health and wellness (kind of like water). But, it’s easy to overlook because the effects can be hard to notice. I hope that by the end of this article, you’ll set a non-negotiable bedtime. Let’s learn how sleeping can help you lose weight.
I remember hearing a story about a boy who got glasses for the first time. On his way home from the optometrist wearing his new glasses, he says, “oh that’s what those green blobs are! They’re trees!” When you experience something for the first time. You don't know you’re missing out because the lack of it is all you know. Maybe you’ve experienced this. I know I did when I started drinking 2L of water a day it was easier to spot when dehydration and thirst would hit. Well, the same thing will happen when you start to get enough good quality sleep.
Sleep and Blood Sugar
Your blood sugar levels play a major role in weight gain and weight loss. (~Insert picture of BG lvls~) If your blood sugar levels are not within the normal range consistently this can lead to insulin resistance. When this happens it’s common to experiences increased hunger as well as dehydration. If your body can’t properly move the sugar in your blood your body thinks you’re not getting enough energy from food so it increases hunger. Likewise, your kidneys will try to flush out the extra sugar in your blood leading to dehydration. A dehydrated body negatively influences our metabolism and fat burning abilities.
Getting as little as one week of not enough sleep increases your blood sugar to pre-diabetic levels (1). This means that you’re one step closer to developing diabetes, literally. Your blood sugar levels rise above normal but not quite yet as high as diabetic levels.
Sleep and Hormones
Not getting enough sleep increases the hungry hormone, ghrelin, and decreases the satiety hormone, leptin (1,2). This means despite actually having eaten enough food to satisfy you, you still want to eat more because these hormones are out of whack. On those days you can't seem to get enough food, maybe you just didn't sleep well enough. Research shows people who get 7–8 hours of quality sleep have better weight management outcomes than those who sleep less or more (2).
Sleep and Decisions
Sleep allows you to tackle the next day. If you’re following a new weight loss plan, having had enough sleep lets you face the challenges of changing your eating habits. Not enough sleep impairs your emotional state (I’m sure you’ve experienced this because I know I have) (1,2). With poor sleep, you’re more susceptible to making impulsive decisions and succumbing to emotional eating. Not to mention, if you’re not sleeping enough while dieting you could lose lean muscle mass instead of fat and we don't want that.
How to know if you’re getting enough sleep
Dr. Matthew Walker author of Why We Sleep has a few questions you can ask yourself to find out. After waking up, could you fall back asleep in a few hours? If yes, you are not getting enough sleep quality or quantity. Can you function optimally without caffeine before noon? If no, you are not getting enough sleep quality or quantity. If you don’t set an alarm clock, would you sleep past that time? If yes, you are not getting enough sleep quality or quantity.
How to improve sleep quality and quantity
To improve sleep quality keep the room as dark as you can. Cover little blinking lights from devices. Get blackout curtains or an eye-mask. The lights from your devices as well as fluorescent light blubs mess with your internal clock and makes your body think it’s still day time so it keeps you alert and it takes you longer to fall asleep.
You can look into getting blue light blocking glasses to wear in the evening or downloading an app like Flux that decreases blue light as the night progresses. Also, opt for yellow light bulbs as opposed to blue ones. Lower the temperature of the room to 15-19 degrees Celsius or use lighter sheets and pajamas. The hotter you are when you sleep, the worse your sleep quality.
Skip the melatonin. It’s not helpful for healthy, non-jet lagged people because all it does is tell the body it's getting closer to sleep time but doesn’t generate sleep. Skip the mid-day coffee. Caffeine peeks at 30 minutes after ingestion and has a half-life of 5-7 hours, meaning it takes 5-7 hours for the body to metabolize 50% of the caffeine. Don’t try to cheat and opt for decaf instead. Decafe doesn’t mean no caffeine, it still has about 15-30% of the regular dose.
Congratulations! You’ve completed the first step! Education! You can’t make a change without knowing about the thing that has to be changed. If you want to improve your sleep you have to make it a habit. I suggest you start with one thing, whether it’s changing your sleep time, reducing your light exposure, or lowering the temperature.
Change one thing and stick with it for 60 days (that’s how long it takes to develop a habit). After the 60 days incorporate one more change into your sleep routine. If you need help installing the new habit ask yourself how did you go about installing a previous habit? Did you use reminders? Did you just do it? Everyone is different. Leverage what works for you. You’ve created new habits in the past and you can certainly do it again with your sleep!
Sleep well, my friend! Cheers to you and your success.
1. Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker