Sleep It Off: The Sleep-Weight Connection

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Say “Rock-a-bye-extra-kilos!” Did you know that lack of sleep can make it difficult to lose weight?

Several major studies have shown that sleep, or lack of it, affects a number of processes in the body linked with weight management, including the ability to process glucose effectively. If you’re doing all the right things, but still can’t seem to lose weight, it could be that you just need to sleep it off!

Read on and find out how a good night’s sleep can make all the difference to your body and your waistline.

Losing sleep, gaining weight

Do you lose sleep over your weight? It might be time to try losing weight over your sleep!

According to a major study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, lack of sleep can reduce the production of the hormone GH – a hormone that helps inhibit weight gain. GH plays an important role in controlling the proportions of fat and muscle. Having less of this hormone increases your chances of being overweight.

Lack of sleep can also affect the hormone leptin, which regulates the metabolism of carbohydrates and signals the body when it should feel full. When there are low levels of leptin, the body craves carbohydrates regardless of the amount of calories consumed. This can easily lead to weight gain.

On the other hand, studies show that if you get high amounts of REM sleep (deep or slow-wave) your evening cortisol levels are more likely to be well-balanced. The hormone cortisol also plays a role in regulating appetite. The more balanced your cortisol levels, the easier it is to control your appetite.

Lack of sleep and diabetes

Lack of sleep has also been shown to have diabetes-like effects on people.

One study showed that a sleep deficit of three to four hours for only one week can have adverse effects on basic metabolic functions, such as processing and storing carbohydrates, even if you’re young and healthy.

The study suggests that without sufficient sleep your ability to process glucose can be affected so much that glucose levels can reach those associated with a pre-diabetic state.

The director of the study said she suspected that chronic sleep loss might hasten the onset, and increase the severity of, age-related ailments such as diabetes, hypertension, obesity, and memory loss.

Now here’s the rub

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While not enough sleep can cause weight gain, weight gain can also affect your sleep adversely, increasing your chances of developing some type of sleep disorder.

It’s a catch-22 situation, the best way out of which is to improve both your sleep quality and weight at the same time.

If you have difficulty sleeping, or are overweight, or both, set a goal to lose half to one kilo per week and practice these good pre-sleep habits.

  • Cut back on caffeine – coffee, tea, chocolate. Some people get wired with just one cup of java. Know your cut-off level.
  • Limit alcohol and don’t drink right before bedtime. It can promote drowsiness, but disrupts REM sleep.
  • Regular daytime exercise can enhance your sleep, making it deeper and more restful. Avoid exercising just before bed as it can keep you awake.
  • Try drinking a glass of warm low-fat milk before you go to bed; it helps some people to sleep more deeply.
  • Have a relaxing bedtime routine. Stop doing anything stressful an hour before bedtime – give your brain time to wind down.
  • Don’t eat too close to bedtime.
  • Don’t nap or sleep in late, stick to regular sleeping hours.
  • Keep a notepad near your bed. If you are worrying about something or thinking of things you need to do the next day, jot them down so you can clear your mind until morning.
  • Try not to obsess about not sleeping. The more you worry about it, the less you will sleep.
  • If light is coming into the room, block it off or wear a lightweight sleep mask. If noise is keeping you awake, try ear plugs.
  • Try a soothing bath or other relaxation rituals, including deep breathing, restful music, light stretching or progressive muscle relaxation, before you get into bed.
  • If you often have trouble getting to sleep, you might consider seeking professional help.

References :

This article was compiled in consultation with Calorie King experts and in reference to the following sources:

Eve Van Cauter, PhD, Rachel Leproult, MS, Laurence Plat MD, ‘Age-Related Changes in Slow Wave Sleep and REM Sleep And Relationship With Growth Hormone and Cortisol Levels in Healthy Men,’ Journal of the American Medical Association, 2000: pp 861-868

Karine Spiegel, Rachel Leproult, Eve Van Cauter, ‘Impact of Sleep Debt on Metabolic and Endocrine Function,’ The Lancet, 1999, Volume 354,: pp 1435

Calorie King
CalorieKing's mission is to provide the best information, tools and education to Australians to help them conquer their weight.

CalorieKing is the brainchild of Allan Borushek, registered dietitian, co-found here at food.com.au and author of "Allan Borushek's Pocket Calorie & Fat Counter", Australia's best-selling calorie counter for over 30 years.

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