How Sleep Impacts Your Weight
How Sleep Impacts Your Weight

Sleep appears to be a crucial factor often overlooked in weight management. As Americans have steadily gained weight over the past several decades, their sleep has decreased. Researchers believe that’s no coincidence.

  • 35% of Americans get less than 7 hours of sleep a night.
  • Sleeping 6 to 7 hours a night is linked to higher BMIs and especially belly fat.
  • One study of 70,00 middle-aged women found that those who slept 5 hours a night were 32% more likely (than those sleeping 7 hours) to gain 33 pounds or more over 20 years.

Why Less Sleep Means More Pounds

  • 1. A lack of sleep impacts the neurotransmitters ghrelin and leptin. Ghrelin promotes hunger, and lack of sleep heightens ghrelin levels. Leptin makes you feel full; when it’s impaired overeating.
  • 2. Short sleep results in high fat and carb food cravings. So it’s not necessarily that sleep-deprived people eat more; they eat more foods fattening foods.
  • 3. Not getting enough ZZZs creates cortisol spikes, like stress causes, which in turn tells your body to conserve energy. That means you aren’t burning calories, but gaining fat.
  • 4. Sleeping too little dulls activity in the brain’s frontal lobe. That’s where impulse control and decision-making happens. So you may not make great choices or have much willpower.
  • 5. More time awake means more time to eat. While not every sleep-starved person eats more than well-rested folk, many will just because they have more opportunity.
  • 6. Less sleep means less energy. You’re less inclined to hit the gym or take that walk. Exercise helps you sleep.

Tips to Improve Sleep

  • Maintain a regular sleep schedule. You will have special events and circumstances, but aim to stay as close to your set bedtime as possible.
  • Keep your room dark. Light tells your brain it’s daytime and to stay alert.
  • Don’t eat too close to bedtime, especially spicy or heavy foods. It’s likely to cause indigestion, and if you drink too many liquids, your sleep will be interrupted for bathroom visits. And remember, caffeine stays in the system five to six hours. If you eat, make it a good protein snack at least three hours before bed.
  • At least an hour before bedtime, turn off all your devices. Instead, read, take a shower or bath, meditate or do some other relaxed activity.
  • Get exercise, just not too late in the day. Exercise too close to bedtime gets you too hyped up. However, some relaxing stretches or bedtime yoga may help.

Finally, a word of encouragement: one study found that people who did nothing consciously to change their lifestyle, except getting more sleep, lost weight and kept it off.