How Does Sleep Affect Weight Loss?

Posted On Oct 3, 2017 By Rachel Weingarten

How Does Sleep Affect Weight Loss?

I'm tired. In anticipation of an early flight today, I tossed and turned and fretted and fussed and slept for a grand total of 40 minutes. Did I mention just how tired I am today? And while my situation is on the extreme side, on the whole all of us are sleeping a lot less than we used to. "The average night's sleep, till light bulbs were invented 135 years ago, was 9 hours a night. Now we are down to 6 3/4 hours a night" said Jacob Teitelbaum MD, a researcher and author of the popular free phone app, “From Fatigued to Fantastic."

So if most of us are sleeping fewer hours than we once did, is there really a danger to miss out on enough sleep every now and then? Well, unfortunately for me and anyone who's feeling sleep deprived the answer is most emphatically yes.

Registered Dietitian and Lead Nutrition Expert, Rene Ficek at Seattle Sutton's Healthy Eating said sleep is so important that "People with short sleep duration tend to weigh significantly more than those who get adequate sleep. In fact, short sleep duration is one of the strongest risk factors for obesity." So how high are those percentages exactly? Ficek said "In one massive review study, children and adults with short sleep duration were 89% and 55% more likely to become obese, respectively." Gulp…

But that's not all, "There is growing evidence that too little sleep can affect hormones and metabolism in ways that promote insulin resistance." And if you think this sounds scary, it is. If lifestyle changes aren't made, Ficek says insulin resistance can eventually turn into full blown diabetes. Chronic sleep deprivation has also been blamed for leading to elevated levels of the stress hormone, cortisol which may in turn promote insulin resistance. It also can make you hungrier, and not just for a sugary caffeine intense drink to get you through that slump.

In case you think it's just a small amount of weight gained when you're overtired, Teitelbaum said "Inadequate sleep is associated with an average 6.5 pound weight gain and a 30% higher risk of obesity. This occurs because sleep is where we make the hormones leptin, which gives us a sense of easy satiety after eating, and also growth hormone. The latter, also called the fountain of youth hormone, helps decrease fat and increase muscle mass and is made mostly during deep sleep ( called N3) and not light sleep where people toss and turn."

If you're concerned that you're not getting enough sleep, or worried about the quality of your sleep, Dr. Carolyn Coker Ross, a graduate of Andrew Weil's Fellowship Program in Integrative Medicine and expert and pioneer in the use of Integrative Medicine for the treatment of Eating Disorders, Obesity and Addictions offered some tips on getting more zzzs.

  1. Keep a sleep journal: Keep track of things like stress and even spicy foods interfering with your ability to sleep. Dr. Coker Ross also advises getting out of bed when you wake up, and doing something relaxing like listening to music or reading, or even trying to do breath work (use a cd if needed).
  2. Get up and do something: If you can’t manage to fall asleep, don't stay in bed. Dr. Coker Ross suggests getting up and even having a cup of kava kava tea or any relaxing tea to help you fall asleep.
  3. Keep naps short: Naps are helpful if less than 1 hour according to Dr. Coker Ross, "more than that and they can affect your ability to go to sleep at night."
  4. Travel smarter: While Dr. Coker Ross advises using Melatonin for traveling, it's best to consult with your own doctor first since usage isn't regulated in any way and pill strength varies by manufacturers. Dr. Coker Ross also says "You should take something with you like your favorite pillow or a small blanket that you use to help you sleep at home." And while you're at it "When you travel, try to immediately get on the time zone of your new location. For example, traveling to Europe, try to stay awake until it is bedtime in your new country."

As a lifelong insomniac, I'm going to offer a few of my own better sleep tips as well:

  • Invest in blackout curtains – if you're distracted by lights from outside, these can prove to be an invaluable investment. While they're not as pretty as sheers, they really do help with better sleep.
  • Use white noise machines or sound machines – I can't get to sleep without something to drown out the street noises. While crashing waves are my fave, any white noise machine will do.
  • Avoid distractions – bed is for bed or sexitime. It shouldn't be for using your laptop or scrolling madly through Twitter. Leave that for daytime.
  • Keep lights dim – I will very rarely turn on an overhead light in my bedroom at night since the light can be jarring. Instead, I rely heavily on my Philips Hue lightbulbs to set a more mellow lighting environment that fades as I get ready for bed.

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