If you’re fighting for weight Loss, the amount of sleep you get may be just as important as your diet and exercise. Unfortunately, many people aren’t getting enough sleep.
In fact, about 35% of US adults are sleeping fewer than 7 hours most nights, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Getting fewer than 7 hours of sleep at night is considered short sleep.
Interestingly, mounting evidence shows that sleep may be the missing factor for many people who are having difficulty losing weight.
How Lack of Sleep May Affect Weight
When you’re short on sleep, it’s easy to lean on a large latte to get moving. You might be tempted to skip exercise (too tired), get takeout for dinner, and then turn in late because you’re uncomfortably full.
If this chain of events happens a few times a year, no problem. The trouble is that more than one-third of Americans don’t get enough sleep on a regular basis. However, experts agree that getting enough shut-eye is no less important to health, well-being and weight than diet and exercise.
Your Sleepy Brain
Sleep deficiency can cause your brain to make bad decisions. It dulls activity in the frontal lobe of the brain, which is where decision making and impulse control takes place. So it’s kind of like being drunk. You don’t have the mental clarity to make good decisions.
In addition, when you’re overtired, your brain’s reward center kicks in and looks for what feels good. So while you may be able to suppress your comfort food cravings when you’re well-rested, your sleep-deprived brain may have a hard time saying no to a second slice of cake.
Research tells the story. A study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that late-night snacking increased when people lacked sleep, and they were more likely to choose high-carbohydrate snacks. In another study from the University of Chicago, sleep-deprived participants chose snacks with twice the fat content of those who had at least eight hours of sleep.
A second study found that getting too little sleep can prompt people to eat larger portions of all foods and gain weight. In a review of 18 studies, researchers found that lack of sleep leads to increased cravings for energy-dense, high-carbohydrate foods.
Add it all up and the sleepy brain seems to crave junk food while also lacking the impulse control to say no.
Research Linking Sufficient Quality Sleep and Healthy Habits
A number of studies support the link between sleep and weight. Previous studies included data from 68,000 participants, comparing women who slept seven hours a night to those who slept five hours or less. Those who recorded less sleep were 15% more likely to become obese.
As mentioned earlier, lack of sleep can lead to unhealthy dietary choices. More sleep may also encourage healthier food choices during the day.” Makekau,MD, chief of pulmonology and sleep medicine director at Kaiser Permanente in Honolulu, said, “While research is underway to better define the relationship between sleep and eating habits, there is a wealth of data to support the role of good sleep in the overall maintenance of health and well-being.
For example, one small study found that staying in bed for an extra hour or so resulted in a reduced intake of fat, carbohydrates and sugar during the day compared to a control group.” Getting enough quality sleep supports energy, mood, focus and motivation during the day,” says Makekau.” All of these factors play an important role in making good choices during the day.”
Be careful not to get too much sleep, though, as this may also lead to weight gain. Previous studies that followed a group of adults for six years found that those who slept five to six hours a night were 35 percent more likely to gain 11 pounds – but long sleepers (those who slept nine to 10 hours) were also 25 percent more likely to experience the same amount of weight gain compared to those who slept seven to eight hours a night. Longer sleep is associated with spending more time in bed and less time burning calories.
Sleep During Weight Loss
Getting adequate, quality sleep is an important part of a healthy weight loss program. Most importantly, studies show that losing sleep while dieting reduces the amount of weight lost and encourages overeating.
Tips for Quality Sleep During Weight Loss
There are many ways to improve sleep. Here are a few research-based tips for sleeping better when you’re trying to lose weight:
- Keep a regular sleep schedule: Big swings in your sleep schedule or trying to catch up on sleep after a week of late nights can cause changes in metabolism and reduce insulin sensitivity, making it easier for blood sugar to be elevated.
- Sleep in a dark room: Exposure to artificial light while sleeping, such as a TV or bedside lamp, is associated with an increased risk of weight gain and obesity.
- Don’t eat right before bed: Eating late may reduce the success of weight loss attempts
- Reduce Stress: Chronic stress may lead to poor sleep and weight gain in several ways, including eating to cope with negative emotions
- Be an Early Bird: People with late bedtimes may consume more calories and be at a higher risk for weight gain. Early birds may be more likely to maintain weight loss when compared to night owls.