Can sleep really help with weight loss? Of course!
I get this question all the time, and it comes down to stress and hormones. Not what you eat or how much you exercise, although these are very important tools for losing weight. The forgotten piece is sleep: it affects weight loss in a big way. One-third of Americans are not getting enough sleep. And, sleep is something we should be doing 1/3 of the day (8 hours/24 hours in a day).
When you’re tired, the brain says, “Hey, we need something to feel good,” and then searches for the afternoon latte or piece of chocolate. We crave high-carb snacks and bigger portions of food when we are sleep deprived. And so, we gain weight. Sleep is good for the brain. It helps to crush cravings if we get enough of it (between 7 to 9 hours is ideal).
So, let’s get back to the hormones and why they are important.
Lack of sleep impacts hunger hormones. Two big ones are called ghrelin and leptin. Ghrelin lets you know when it is time to eat. Leptin lets you know when not to eat. When you don’t get enough sleep, the body produces more ghrelin and the leptin levels take a nosedive. So what happens? More food is consumed, and it’s generally food that’s not good for us. These two hormones, unbalanced with lack of sleep, are what’s making people fat and losing the weight loss battle. Insulin, which changes sugar and starches into energy, goes crazy. And then add cortisol, the key stress hormone that dramatically increases by telling the body to hold on to energy to use while awake when we don’t get enough sleep. It’s a never-ending weight loss cycle that plagues millions.
We can break the cycle by going to bed earlier to get at least 7 hours of restorative sleep each night.
We can decrease or cut intake of caffeine, particularly after 2 pm. We can stop eating at least 3 hours before bed. We can add a morning ritual of mindfulness practices like meditation, along with movements like yoga, tai chi or other forms of exercise. We can carry mindfulness throughout the day by becoming more aware of how tired we are, how we feel, what our initial reaction is (like grabbing a latte or chocolate), owning the reaction and then perhaps replacing the latte with an apple or a glass of water.
Breaking the cycle takes full presence and concerted awareness of habits, effort and time. With dedicated practice, weight loss can be achieved with better sleep!
I hope you enjoyed this 3-part series! Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.