Okay, maybe it has everything to do with diet, but perhaps not quite so directly. People always want to know that quick fix to losing weight and especially belly fat. I can tell you, a quick fix doesn't exist that will keep weight off. Sometimes people will ask me, "what's the number one thing you would have me do to lose weight?". When I respond, "sleep more", I often think people want to slug me or at the least they think I'm crazy. Admittedly, I am no sleep expert. However, I do know how poor sleep slows down weight loss.
The average American adult does not sleep enough. Most studies show that an individual needs 7-9 hours of sleep per night, which by and large, we are not getting. In 2013 the average American adult got 6.8 hours of sleep per night, in 1942 7.9 hours per night. So what?! You may be thinking. What could that have to do with weight loss, metabolism, or weight maintenance? SOOOO MUCH!
If you have sleep problems, you really have 24 hour problems. Your cognitive ability from storing and accessing memories is compromised. Your ability to be creative is impacted. It can affect your physical safety, social interactions, mental health, and for the purposes of this post: YOUR PHYSICAL HEALTH. People with sleep difficulties are more likely to be obese, they have an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, and higher levels of inflammation.
I know you are saying, come on, why is this the 1st thing you will recommend? Let's talk hormones. You have a hormone called 'Leptin', this is secreted to say "I'm full, I'm satisfied, You don't need any more food". It's your satiety hormone. And in sleep deprivation, you have LESS OF IT. That means your body has a decreased ability to know when you have eaten enough. You also have a hormone called 'Ghrelin'. I like to remember it as 'yellin ghrelin'. It's your hunger or "hanger'' hormone. It is secreted when your body is telling you, I need MORE food. This hormone is increased with sleep debt. That means you have more of it telling you eat, EAT, EAT! You also have an increase in the hormone cortisol. This is a stress hormone, and your body secretes more of it when you are stressed, or when you are sleep deprived. It tells your body to STORE BELLY FAT!
So poor sleep = hormones telling you YOU HAVEN"T EATEN ENOUGH, YOU NEED TO EAT MORE, AND STORE BELLY FAT. No wonder this is the first thing I will recommend to someone.
Simply by adding 30-40 minutes of sleep per night will affect a cascade of hormones that help you decide when and how much to eat. Aside from hormones, motivation to exercise is shown to decrease with lack of sleep, and poorer performance with less sleep. One study showed sleep deprived people eat an average of 263 calories (for men) and 329 calories (for women) more per day than their less sleep deprived selves. At the end of a week that could be the difference of an additional pound gained.
That 30-40 minutes of extra sleep may pay more dividends in terms of weight goals than 30-40 minutes at the gym. What! Yes, you read that right, if I had to choose between gym time or sleep, Sleep would win every time. You will be rewarded with better hormone balances, better food choices, and being more effective with tasks at hand.
Here are some tips to improve your sleep hygiene.
1)limit light at night, set your phone to limit blue light or take it out of the room altogether
2) take time to wind down, do relaxing activities before bed, and limit conversations about stressful things in your life, avoid task oriented activities
3) set up an ideal bedroom (cool, dark, quiet, clean, no clock, good mattress, no pets)
4) When you wake up, try to get in full spectrum light for 30 minutes first thing in the morning like 1-2 hours of waking up (get outside in the sun)
Sleep and stress management is a HUGE part of weight management. If you have any more questions about sleep or weight loss, please consider my weight loss coaching program. We will train your metabolism to chug along at the fastest pace possible.
Caitlin Johnson is a dietitian, wife, lover of ice cream, chef wannabe, California-girl, Christian, liver eating, "food-avore."
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