Losing weight through sleep may sound a bit absurd but have you ever had a sleepless night followed by a day when you never felt full or satisfied, no matter what food you indulged in? While it may sound crazy, substantial medical evidence now suggests some fascinating links between sleep and weight. So before you blame your poor weight loss results on bad genetics, the program, or weight loss products, take a good look at your sleeping habits. Here’s why.
What is this mysterious link between sleep and weight loss? Researchers claim that the amount of sleep and quality of sleep you get silently orchestrates a symphony of hormonal activity tied directly to your appetite. Basically, sleep and weight share a powerful hidden bond that boils down to raging hormones.
Your hormones act as traffic signals telling your body what to do and when. As a result, much of what you feel – tired, hungry, excited, ravenous, thirsty, stressed – is due to your hormones impacting your mind and body. Two hormones, in particular, leptin and ghrelin, control appetite and hunger. These hormones not only tell you whether you’re full or hungry, but they also tell you whether you’d prefer chocolate or a salad. Luckily, you can control them!
Inadequate sleep causes an imbalance of leptin and ghrelin in your body. But what does this mean in terms of weight loss? “When you don’t get enough sleep it drives leptin levels down, which means you don’t feel as satisfied after you eat. Lack of sleep also causes ghrelin levels to rise which means your appetite is stimulated so you want more food,” states Michael Breus, Ph.D., a faculty member at the Atlanta School of Sleep Medicine and author of “Beauty Sleep.” Without enough sleep, ghrelin continues to tell your body “feed me I’m hungry” even after you’ve eaten and leptin forgets to send the message “stop, I’m full” to your brain. As a result, this sets the stage for overeating and weight gain. It also makes staying on a strict diet extremely difficult.
To illustrate this, the University of Chicago conducted a study where participants were allowed only four hours of sleep a night for two nights. After the two nights, participants suffered a 20% drop in leptin (stop-eating hormone) levels and an increase in ghrelin (eat-more hormone) levels. Participants also experienced a 24% increase in hunger, a 23% increase in appetite and a 33-45% increase in the desire for calorie-dense, high-carb foods like sweets, salty snacks, and starchy foods. While the amount of sleep you need to maintain weight-reducing levels of ghrelin and leptin depends on your individual needs, you can see how getting adequate sleep can severely influence your weight loss efforts.
If that wasn’t enough to motivate you to spend more time in bed, how about this. Sleep loss also interferes with your body’s ability to metabolize carbs which leads to an increase in fat storage and ultimately a propensity to become overweight. Additionally, lack of sleep increases cortisol levels. This catabolic hormone causes muscles to break down and causes your body to store more fat. Furthermore, it also increases your appetite and then stores those calories as fat.
Bottom line – make sleep your number one priority when embarking on a diet. Commit to getting enough sleep every night, otherwise all your sit-ups, calorie counting and money spent on weight-loss products and programs are wasted. By getting enough sleep, eating a healthy diet and fitting in some exercise, you’ve got the perfect formula for not only losing weight but keeping it off!