Sleeping Your Way to Weight Loss

When was the last time you had a good night’s sleep? You fell asleep within 10-15 minutes of getting into bed. You didn’t wake up multiple times to go to the bathroom.  You woke up a few minutes before the alarm and felt ready to take on the day. If it’s been awhile since you got a quality 7-8 hours it may be the missing link in your fat loss plan.

I am not the kind of person who likes to blame weight gain (or the inability to lose weight) on one single thing. I believe there are a combination of lifestyle factors that influence a person’s weight and health.  Anyone starting a fitness journey should master the basics first, focused exercise and cleaning up their nutrition, before they start looking for those other factors that might be impeding their progress.  If you are dedicated to your workouts and eating clean 80-90% of the time and your fat loss has come to a standstill, then it may be time to start exploring other lifestyle and health factors like your sleep or perhaps lack thereof.

Sleep regulates our appetite hormones.

Sleep is closely tied to the production of two hormones, ghrelin and leptin. Ghrelin is the hormone responsible for stimulating appetite and, thus, signaling the body to increase food intake. Short duration sleep has been shown to increase levels of ghrelin in the body. Leptin, produced by the adipose tissue, is the appetite suppressing hormone. When we eat, triglyceride deposits go to our fat cells and stimulate leptin to be produced. Leptin then signals our brain that we are “full” and to stop eating.  When we are sleep deprived, leptin rates fall and our level of hunger stays elevated.  If you have depleted leptin and increased ghrelin levels managing hunger may be very hard to accomplish.

Sleep deprivation causes us to make bad choices.

When you are tired and you need energy what are the first things you reach for?  Caffeine and carbs.  While I have nothing against caffeine in moderation, too much of it loaded with cream and sugar can add extra calories that you don’t need.  Same thing with carbs.  You need carbs, but in our sleep deprived state we reach for the sugary refined ones we think are going to give us energy. While both things might temporarily give you a boost, they actually make the sleep problem worse and will complicate your fat loss plan in the long term.

If you have not been getting enough sleep or paying attention to the quality of sleep here are the action steps I want you to take.

  1. Limit caffeine consumption starting in the early afternoon. You may not think it impedes your ability to sleep, but it does. It can also impact the quality of the sleep you are getting.
  2. Create the right environment for sleep. No electronics in the bedroom. That means no TV or cell phones charging by the bed. Keep the room cool and block out light with heavy drapes or a sleep mask.
  3. Set the mood before you go to bed. Give yourself an hour to wind down before actually turning in for the night. Take the time to catch up on your reading or spend some quiet time chatting about your day with your spouse or significant other.
  4. Don’t exercise too late in the evening. Physical activity does contribute to better sleep, but if you do it too close to bed time you may be to energized to go to fall asleep.

Are you getting your 7-8 hours? If not, tell me what you’re going to start doing differently.

  • Sarah Jo

    Two things:

    1. My OB/GYN explained that women tend to gain weight while on birth control b/c the medicine also messes with these appetite hormones. Again, not to cast blame for weight gain on one thing, but birth control can be a factor.

    2. A bedtime routine has made a huge difference in how I fall asleep every night! My alarm is set for 10 PM, and at the cue, I clean up the kitchen and living room, wash my face, brush/floss my teeth, and by 10:30 I’m in bed with a book. Lights out at 11.

    Thanks for another great post, Pamela!

  • Isaac

    Really good read Pamela and some interesting facts to think about. Trying to make healthy choices in a sleep deprived state definitly doesn’t work well…Not to mention how hard it is to perform quality exercise when you’re exhausted.

  • Pamela

    Thank you both! Yes, birth control can be another factor for sure. When you adjust one hormone it will effect them all. Isaac, great point about the quality of workouts!

  • Katy Smith

    i find myself making smarter food choices when i’ve had plenty of sleep

  • Eric

    As someone who has a sedentary job, getting enough exercise is a real key for me getting a good night’s sleep. Not enough activity during the day means I will be awake a lot during the night, or I will sleep very lightly. Also, if I have not had a workout, it is better for me to exercise late in the evening than not at all. It may take longer to fall asleep, but the sleep afterward seems to be deeper most of the time.

  • Pamela

    Exactly Katy! We can think and make better choices about a lot of things with proper sleep. Eric, great point. If you can get a better quality sleep than I say go for it!

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