Approximately one in four Australians gets an insufficient amount of sleep (less than about eight hours) each night. Does this sound like you? If you struggle with poor sleep, you’re probably well-acquainted with how much of a vicious cycle sleep deprivation can be. Once your rhythm has been thrown off, it feels almost impossible to get it back on track. Then, the longer you go without getting good sleep, the harder it is to wake up feeling refreshed. Sleep deprivation can also create a vicious cycle when it comes to your weight. Poor sleep makes it much harder for you to lose weight, and you may even find that some additional pounds are being added to the scale. To make matters worse, when you carry around extra weight, it also becomes even harder for you to sleep through the night, which further perpetuates weight management challenges. If you’re not sleeping through the night, you miss out on eight hours of fat loss potential. That’s 56 hours gone in the course of a week! Read on to learn more about the specific ways in which sleep deprivation could be holding you back from reaching your weight loss goals.
Sleep Deprivation and HormonesOne of the primary ways that sleep deprivation affects your weight is by contributing to hormone imbalance. Hormones are chemical messengers that travel through the bloodstream and regulate a variety of physiological processes and behaviours. Two primary hormones that are affected by sleep are leptin and ghrelin. Ghrelin is released in the stomach and sends hunger signals to the brain. Ghrelin levels are the highest right before eating (because your stomach is empty) and lowest after eating. Leptin is released by the fat cells. It suppresses feelings of hunger and sends fulness signals to the brain. Poor sleep leads to increases in ghrelin production and decreases in leptin production. As a result, you will likely feel hungrier and have a harder time feeling full. This, in turn, can cause you to overeat and gain weight.
Sleep Deprivation, Stress, and Weight GainAnother hormone influenced by poor or inadequate sleep is cortisol. Cortisol is a steroid hormone produced in the adrenal glands. It is the body’s primary stress hormone. When you don’t get enough sleep, your cortisol levels may rise. This puts your body into a sympathetic (or “fight or flight”) state and makes it harder for you to feel relaxed. As a result, you’ll likely continue to have a hard time falling asleep, which will contribute to continually elevated cortisol (it’s another vicious cycle). High cortisol and chronic stress can increase feelings of hunger in some people. This, in turn, can cause folks to turn to food as a source of stress relief (especially foods that are high in calories, carbs, and/or sugar). Overconsuming these foods can lead to weight gain.
Sleep Deprivation and Poor Gut HealthFor the last few years, the health of the digestive tract (or gut) has been a huge topic of conversation in the health and wellness world. That’s because, as researchers have learned, the health of the gut influences practically every other process in the body. If you have poor gut health, you might be more prone to autoimmune disease, for example, or may develop thyroid disorders or acne. It turns out that poor sleep can have a negative impact on gut health, too. The gut, like other systems in the body, is regulated by our circadian rhythm (the natural processes that regulate our sleep-wake cycles). When this rhythm gets thrown off, the balance of good and bad bacteria in the gut microbiome gets thrown off, too. On the flip side, it appears that an imbalance in the gut microbiome can also affect our sleep. Poor gut health makes it harder for us to lose weight, too. If you have an imbalance of bacteria in your gut, you may retain water and become bloated more easily. You might also experience alterations in your metabolism, which causes you to burn fewer calories and makes it easier for your body to hold onto fat.
Sleep Deprivation and CravingsPeople who don’t get enough sleep are more likely to have, and give in to, cravings. This is especially true of cravings for high-calorie and high-carbohydrate foods. Research shows that a lack of sleep causes the reward centres of the brain to become more stimulated by food than they are if we’re well-rested. When you are sleep deprived, your willpower is a lot lower than it would be otherwise. As a result, you’ll likely have a harder time saying no to the doughnuts someone brought to the office or the dessert the waiter offers you at dinner.
Sleep Deprivation and MetabolismPoor sleep has a negative effect on your resting metabolic rate (or RMR, for short) as well. Your RMR refers to the number of calories the body burns at rest. One study of men who were kept awake showed a five per cent reduction in their RMR. Their total metabolic rate was 20 per cent lower after eating as well. Keep in mind that these changes occurred after just one night of sleep deprivation. Think about what could be happening to your metabolism if you’re getting poor sleep (maybe not total deprivation, but pretty close to it) on a consistent basis? It’s no wonder you might be struggling to lose weight. Poor sleep can also affect your metabolism by contributing to muscle loss. Because muscle burns more calories when the body is at rest than fat, when you lose muscle mass, your resting metabolic rate goes down.
Sleep Deprivation and Exercise PerformanceWhen you’re feeling exhausted after a night of poor sleep, do you want to go hard in the gym the next day? Probably not. Even if you do want to get after your workout, chances are you’re going to have a hard time doing so, as poor sleep has been linked to poor exercise performance. In fact, some studies show that people who are moderately sleep-deprived have the same level of impairment as those who are intoxicated. Most people aren’t killing their workouts and burning lots of calories when they’re drunk, right?
Sleep Deprivation and Blood SugarSleep deprivation can also lead to problems with blood sugar balance. Specifically, folks who get poor sleep on a regular basis are more likely to become insulin resistant. Insulin is a hormone that helps to move sugar from your blood into your body’s cells. There, it can be stored for energy. Insulin resistance causes sugar to stay in the bloodstream. This then causes the release of more insulin to try and get the sugar out of the blood and stored in the cells. When your body produces excess insulin, you may feel hungrier and be more inclined to overeat. Insulin resistance also increases your risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
Tips for Improving Sleep Quantity and QualityAs you can see, there are lots of ways that sleep deprivation can get in the way of your fat loss efforts. By taking control of your sleep, you can regain eight hours of fat-burning potential and get closer to your ultimate health and fitness goals. How do you do this, though? How do you improve your sleep quantity and quality? Making some simple changes to your routine can have a huge impact on your sleep quality. Start by implementing the following strategies:
- Stick to a schedule: Give yourself a strict bedtime and wake time each day, even on the weekends; this will make it easier for your body to start winding down when nighttime rolls around, and you’ll likely feel less tired when you wake up
- Create a caffeine cut-off: Set a specific time of day to cut off the caffeine consumption; make it at least five hours before you start getting ready for bed, as caffeine has about a five-hour half-life
- Get rid of blue light: When it gets dark outside, try to mimic that darkness inside your house; one of the easiest ways to do this is by wearing blue light blocking glasses to help soften the light given off by your TV, phone, or computer screen, as this light sends a signal to your brain that it’s still daytime and can leave you feeling alert when you’re supposed to be winding down