How sleep affects your weight

Originally written for www.stuff.co.nz. published 14 August 2018

If you’ve been steadily gaining weight over the last few years and you’re re struggling with your weight loss efforts, maybe it’s time to consider how your sleep quantity and quality may be affecting you.

While reports are mixed about whether we’re sleeping less in the modern age compared with our ancestors, it’s clear we live in a society that values being busy and it’s not uncommon for our sleep to suffer so that we can squeeze more work and play into our day.

The ideal amount of sleep for each person varies but the US National Sleep Foundation Review in 2015 recommended that most adults generally need between 7 to 9 hours of sleep (though anywhere from 6 to 11 hours could be appropriate) and there’s more and more evidence suggesting a link between the amount of sleep we get and our weight.

From a general health perspective, sleep is important for a myriad of healthy body functions like mental and physical healing and repair, immunity and efficient organ function.

From a weight loss point of view sleep deficiency is linked with an increased risk in obesity and it plays out in several ways.

A tired brain is more susceptible to bad decision making and low impulse control – it’s easier to give in to more cake, chocolate or wine when fatigued just as it’s easier to skip that exercise or gym session.

Lack of sleep can disrupt hormone balance affecting your drive to eat –it increases ghrelin production (the hormone that makes you feel hungry) and decreases leptin (the hormone that tells you to stop eating because you’re full).

The stress hormone cortisol also rises with lack of sleep, causing more fat storage for energy conservation and within just 4 days of inadequate sleep, insulin sensitivity can drop by more than 30%, increasing diabetes risk and your ability to store fat.

So, it’s not that you should sleep more to lose weight, but rather that if you don’t get enough quality sleep you’ll disrupt your metabolism and weight gain follows.

Ensure you get enough sleep and if you feel your sleep quality is poor, try these tips to improve it:

  • Minimise exposure to bright lights and electronic devices 2 hours before you go to bed. The blue light emitted from devices disrupts melatonin production – the hormone that helps you get to sleep so stay away from devices before bedtime, or if that’s not realistic, invest in high quality blue light blocking glasses.
  • Ensure your bedroom is completely dark to promote optimal melatonin production.
  • Your bedroom is only for sleep. And sex. It is not for work or entertainment.
  • Develop a night time routine that allows you to relax and unwind. Try meditation or breathing exercises, reading (preferably from an old-fashioned book with pages or if you’re using an electronic device, wear your blue light blocking glasses) or a warm bath instead of catching up work or brain draining activities.
  • Expose your eyes to the morning sun to promote melatonin production at night.
  • Try lavender essential oil in your bath or mixed with a carrier oil massaged into the front of the neck, stomach, along the spine and on the feet to relax and promote better sleep.