You’re binging on Netflix. Your social media pages are blowing up with notifications. You’re still working on a project that’s due tomorrow. In other words, you aren’t sleeping.
Sleep loss or those skipping on getting much-needed shuteye has dramatically increased over the last few decades. Not only does a lack of sleep make you less productive, but it can also increase your chances of gaining weight, becoming obese, and developing cardiovascular diseases.
If your goal is to lose fat or maintain the healthy weight you’re at right now, sleep is a must. Let’s take a look at what happens to your body when you don’t sleep, how it can ruin all of your weight loss progress, and the best ways to get better sleep.
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU DON’T SLEEP?
Let’s say you consistently skip on sleep. Is it really that bad? What’s the worst that can happen?
Sleep is essential for maintaining the stability of several neuroendocrine functions as well as glucose metabolism. Here are the systems in your body that are hit the hardest when you make it a habit to only sleep a few hours each night.
When you eat a food, your body breaks it down into a usable form of energy called glucose. You probably know glucose by another name: sugar. As you digest a food and blood sugar levels rise, your cells absorb the glucose for energy.
Poor sleep has been shown to result in impaired glucose tolerance. In other words, your cells don’t absorb glucose efficiently, resulting in a consistently elevated level of blood sugar. Impaired glucose tolerance is associated with an increased risk of diabetes and weight gain.
Continuing with the point above, impaired glucose tolerance usually goes hand in hand with a decrease in your insulin sensitivity.
Insulin is a hormone that encourages the cells to absorb glucose for energy. When your body becomes resistant to insulin, you’ll have elevated levels of blood sugar as well as a higher risk for diabetes and obesity.
When our ancestors were being chased around by giant animals, cortisol was literally a matter of life and death. Cortisol is a part of that fight-or-flight system that has helped us to survive this long. But in our modern-day world, cortisol is being released into our bodies without just cause. One way to increase cortisol levels? Skip on sleep. What’s the big deal with more cortisol?
In small amounts, cortisol is healthy. For example, you need it to wake up and react quickly in times of danger. But in large amounts throughout the day and night, it can cause a lot of trouble. Cortisol is a catabolic hormone, which means it can break things down. Studies show that not getting enough sleep increases the production and release of cortisol, which triggers weight gain.
Another hormone, this one is directly associated with your appetite. Ghrelin stimulates your appetite, signaling that it’s time to eat. Studies show that skipping on sleep can unnecessarily increase ghrelin levels. In turn, you’ll feel hungrier throughout the day and night, and the result could be more snacking and overdoing the calories to lose weight.
On the flip side, leptin is the hormone that is released to signal to your body that you’ve eaten enough. It’s essentially an appetite suppressant. Not surprisingly, when you skip on sleep, you lower your production and release of leptin. The result? A bigger appetite and no one to keep it in check.
HOW TO IMPROVE YOUR SLEEP
Now that you know what can happen to your weight when you don’t get enough sleep, let’s discuss how you can get better shuteye.
Most experts recommend no less than seven hours of sleep each night for optimal health and weight management. Here are some ways you can get to sleep faster and stay asleep longer.
This is the trickiest thing to change for most people: Instead of staring at your phone or laptop until the minute you fall asleep, you need to power down an hour before – ideally two hours.
Electronics emit something called blue light, which directly impacts how much melatonin you produce. Melatonin is the hormone that brings about sleep.
In the place of your electronics, try a good old-fashioned book. Experts suggest that reading a physical book can help to relax the mind and get the body ready for sleep.
Naturally, you don’t want to read anything that will get you angry or excited. Choose something that doesn’t require too much thought or emotion.
WARM SHOWER, COOL ROOM
Getting a hot shower before bed has been shown to relax the body. On the flip side, you’ll sleep best in a cool or colder room.
Some experts believe that sleeping naked is the best way to get optimal sleep. The takeaway: Don’t sleep in a room that feels like a sauna because you won’t be able to reach the deepest level of sleep.
Sleep-focused meditation has become popular over the last few years. A guided sleep meditation helps you to focus on your breathing to the point where you relax and can easily drift asleep. There are several meditation apps as well as free videos on YouTube.
Sleep supplements can help the body relax and prepare for shuteye. We do not recommend taking melatonin as you can develop a dependency on it, but there are other natural ingredients to try including the following:
- ZMA (zinc, magnesium, vitamin B6)
- Valerian root
- Chamomile extract
- Passion flower
HAVE YOU NOTICED A CONNECTION BETWEEN SLEEP AND WEIGHT LOSS?
Did you start losing more weight when you began sleeping more? Will you try any of the tricks for sleep mentioned above? Let us know on our Facebook!
- Beccuti G, Pannain S. Sleep and obesity. Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care. 2011;14(4):402–412. doi:10.1097/MCO.0b013e3283479109.