When it comes to losing weight, most people understand the importance of exercising and eating a healthy diet. But there’s one other key area that many people overlook: sleep. Research shows that most people don’t get enough of it, and while that may sound like nothing an extra cup of coffee can’t fix, being sleep deprived can have a big impact on your health — and your waistline.
Unfortunately when we’re busy, adequate sleep is often the first thing to get cut from our schedule. Continue reading to learn why that’s not a good idea, and how you can go about developing better sleep habits.
Being tired may cause you to overeat
Appetite is controlled by two hormones: ghrelin, which triggers hunger, and leptin, which signals the brain when you’re full. Sleep deprivation has been shown to cause increases in ghrelin — which makes you more hungry — and decreased levels of leptin — which means you may continue to eat even after you’re full. Being tired also impairs your ability to make good decisions, so not only are you feeling hungrier, but you’re more likely to reach for unhealthy, fattening foods. Studies have shown that people who are sleep deprived consume 300 extra calories a day, most of which comes from foods high in fat.
Sleep debt affects how your cells respond to insulin
Being sleep deprived has been linked to insulin resistance, which causes elevated blood sugar and can lead to diabetes and other serious health conditions. Insulin also promotes the release of leptin, so if your cells don’t respond to insulin, you could continue to overeat. A study at Weill Cornell Medical College followed 522 patients with recently diagnosed type 2 diabetes and found that for every 30 minutes of weekday sleep debt, the risk of insulin resistance increased by 39 percent, and the risk of obesity increased by 17 percent.
Inconsistent sleep schedules may cause weight gain
Keeping odd hours, or sleeping late on weekends in an attempt to “catch up” on sleep, may be tied to weight gain. Studies have shown that varying your sleep schedule by an hour or more — getting either more or less sleep than usual — may cause people to overeat and snack more than usual. Inconsistent sleep habits were also found to be associated with a higher BMI, with inconsistent waking times most closely linked to higher body fat.
Use of electronic devices at night is linked to weight gain
The widespread use of electronic devices increases our exposure to blue wavelengths, which suppress the secretion of melatonin, a hormone that regulates the body’s circadian rhythm — its natural clock. In a Harvard study where people gradually shifted their circadian rhythms, their blood sugar increased and their leptin levels decreased. While all light suppresses melatonin, the effects from blue light can be twice as powerful and last twice as long.
Creating healthy sleeping habits
Adopting good sleep habits — also known as good sleep hygiene — can help you stay on track with your weight-loss goals, increase your energy, and reduce stress. Individual needs vary, but experts recommend getting between seven and eight hours of sleep every night.
- Stick to a consistent sleep schedule, even on the weekends.
- Avoid stimulants such as caffeine in the evening.
- Practice a relaxing bedtime ritual, such as reading a book or taking a bath, that will signal your brain that it’s time to go to sleep.
- Turn off electronics two to three hours before bed. If you must use a device at night, use the Night Shift feature (available on iPhone and iPad), which changes your screen to a less stimulating yellow light.
- Create the perfect environment for sleep. Your bedroom should be cool — between 60 and 67 degrees — and free of light, noises, and other distractions. Use blackout curtains, fans, or white noise machines to help block out light and noise. And don’t keep a TV in your bedroom — in addition to being another source of stimulating blue light, it can cause you to stay up too late.
- Exercise daily. Even light exercise is better than no activity, but don’t work out too close to bedtime.
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