Can chronic sleepless nights really be one of the main culprits to weight gain? Well, a growing body of science says undoubtedly so, and the quality, not just the quantity of sleep—getting 7-9 hours of uninterrupted sleep a night— is also key to reaching your desired transformation goals and weight loss desires.
This means that the amount of effort and energy you may be pouring into your training and fastidious nutrition routines (like getting your protein after every workout) could all be wasted if your sleep schedule is not dialed in. In short, no one can out train poor sleeping habits, but there are important tools you can adopt and incorporate into your daily routine to better ensure sleepland success so you can experience quality sleep, mental clarity the next day, stave off brain and body overwhelm and burnout as well as finally get the needle on the scale to move with your desired weight loss goals.
Certainly, a successful workout or diet plan with the hopes of transforming anybody toward their personal fitness and optimal weight loss goals has a lot to do with consistency, intensity, grit and quality of foods and workouts incorporated.
However, if the needle on the scale refuses to budge and frustration in times of plateau seems to become overbearing, understanding the sleep-wake cycle or one’s natural circadian rhythm is extremely helpful. nutrition and physical workouts, by addressing how much time the body and brain is given to rest, reset and reboot daily through quality and quantity sleep, the body is better apt to keep the unnecessary and preventable food cravings from high sugar, carbohydrates, fried and junk foods at bay.
This is because with consistent rest, the brain will be less prompted to release the hunger hormone that encourages the body to gravitate toward the weight loss sabotaging foods. In fact, research shows over and over that individuals who report feeling sleep deprived tend to have more trouble losing pounds, emotionally and impulsively crave and reach the wrong types of foods to eat than those who wake up the next morning feeling well rested.
Returning to the hormones that the body produces because of inadequate rest, science shows that its leptin and ghrelin, two over produced hunger causing hormones that the brain to feel insatiably hungry. This hunger fires strongly and increases the habits of binge eating, overeating and lower degrees of satisfaction after eating has completed.
Perhaps night after night sleep is leaving you sleep deprived? Some researchers say that a good way to know if you are sleep deprived is how you feel waking up each morning. If you are feeling well rested, cheerful, and mentally clear, your body was able to reboot and restore well. If not, you may be suffering from sleep deprivation.
Understanding the basis of sleep deprivation in the body is imperative trying to reach your individualized fitness and wellness goals because sleep deprivation drives you to eat more food and eating an excess of nutrients often leads to the inability for your body to fully process and utilize what could have been immediate usable energy if your mind and body state followed the proper sleep-wake cycle. Instead, it stores those excess calories as fat. Lipid and fat storage happen because your body is trying to save all possible energy sources until reboot and restore preservation mode is over—and you are well rested again. To give your body systems—including your mental, physical health and metabolic systems the rest it needs to reset correctly, do your best to get 7 to 9 hours of sleep every night.
Getting less than those 7-9 hours of human-body-and-mind optimization operating sleep is highly correlated to late night snacking and the types of foods chosen to satisfy food cravings.
A research study conducted by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that individuals who were starved of sleep, were more likely to choose high-carb snacks and munched on foods with twice as much fat than when compared to those who slept were satiated with their slumber and slept the recommended hours. On another point, sleep participants confessed to eating bigger portions of all foods when sleep was consistently unsuccessful, thus researchers concluded that a lack of sleep led to increased cravings for more energy-dense, high-carbohydrate foods and increased weight gain.
Not only does not getting enough quality rest each night raise your cortisol levels (a stress hormone that floods your body in times of stress), but this belly fat also raises stress adrenaline—another negative weight loss impacting hormone. These both go hand in hand with agitation, irritability, being short fused, and feeling groggy throughout the day.
With all these coursing through the body, mood stability is less likely to happen and intense emotional charge and decision-making judgements can become more impaired. Not the best combinations to have while going through any wellness protocol, huh? With your mindset dipping because of the lack of sleep, you can pretty much bet your willpower and motivation for a killer workout is anything but alive and well. In fact, your drive to move your body may be the only factor getting the best kind of sleep.
Did you know that individuals who sleep less than six hours each night also show blood glucose and insulin levels comparable to those of diabetes and others who have a sensitivity or difficulty in managing blood sugar? This is because fat cells lose the ability to utilize and process the insulin secreted by the pancreas and metabolize the blood glucose. What is even more alarming is the body’s eventual resistance to insulin if this process is to become chronic because the body will end up producing more and more insulin to function optimally.
Another crucial fact to note about sleep is what happens when the mind and body is at rest. Did you know your body produces the highest amount of growth hormones when sleeping? Growth hormones are key to helping the body burn off unwanted and unused fat as well as helps to rebuild, repair, and restore muscle fibers and tissues that have been challenged and exhausted from exercise, strength training and intentional body movement.
Quality and quantity rest helps your muscles increase in strength and durability as well as weight loss in total body composition. Furthermore, when you are chronically exhausted, your adrenal glands can become burnt out and increase the chances of the inevitable cycle of stress-eating and weight gain to self-perpetuate over and over again.
So, take this time to really look at how you are sleeping and make some positive changes to old habits that may be keeping your chronically tired and you just might see the pounds drop off dramatically. If getting to bed earlier than normal proves challenging to you, there are simple tips you can take to nudge you closer to your sleep and weight loss goals. See how many you can incorporate, and chances are you will witness the incredible correlation between consistent sleep quantity and your fitness goals.
1. Give Yourself a Daily Braincation
The human mind is a fantastically complex machine and will often work overtime both consciously and subconsciously (even when you are not aware) to keep you trying to make sense of circumstances. When you do not give your brain the proper tools to effectively manage stress, insomnia can persist. Training the brain to let go of incessant worry or mind chatter will be one of the best tools to adopt if sleep and weight loss are top goals of yours.
Try listening to a meditation app or podcast. I have a wonderful podcast called “Braincation with Dr. Nancy Lin” which is free and available where podcasts are offered--that will help guide and walk you through short meditations. They are also paired with specific binaural beats which are music patterns that help the brain waves to better reach the meditative states, just by listening to them.
2. Practice Deep Breaths
Taking 3-5 deep belly breaths when you feel triggered, fear, doubt, anger, annoyance allows your mind to de-escalate from an emotionally charged state towards a more peaceful and calming disposition.
Typically, when people experience stress, the breath becomes shallow or people tend to hold their breath—which does not allow for fresh oxygen to circulate through the body, raises body temperature and heart rate, and ends up activating the release of stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline.
Unresolved stress can end up becoming downloaded in the muscles, tissues and joints of the physical body and cause discomfort throughout the day, especially at night when rest is trying to take place. So, during the first signs of stress or any time of day, utilize your deep breaths to calm the central nervous system, engage in some gentle and relaxing yoga and/or breathe your way to a better night’s sleep.
3. Outfit Your Best Bed
If you are experiencing night after night of unsuccessful sleep, maybe you should address setting up your bedroom into a dreamland wonderland with necessary tools such as oils, pillows, and specialty blankets. Consider adding or replacing tactile, soft or a 10–15-pound weighted blanket to your sleeping space. Weighted blankets have been reported to simulate a calming hug on people who have trouble getting and staying asleep, and tactile materials are also great ways to soothe an active mind. Check to see if your mattress needs rotating or changing out altogether. If one side dips down lower or you are waking consistently each morning with body discomforts, perhaps it is the mattress that may need to be renewed.
You may also entertain the idea of getting rid of your pillow altogether and substitute a rolled-up towel to be gently placed under the natural curve of your neck. Spray a few mists of lavender or another calming essential oil on your bed sheets or diffuse some in the air to set the ambient aroma of relaxation, one hour before bedtime. Lastly, consider lowering your bedroom thermostat between 60-67 degrees Fahrenheit (15.6 to 19.4 degrees Celsius), as sleep specialists have found that this is the range that most people experience blissful and uninterrupted sleep.
4. Move That Body of Yours
There are certain exercises that have been shown to help the body get to sleep and stay asleep longer, as long as the exercise is not performed too close (within a few hours) to bedtime. Exercise allows the body to experience the acute stress and rebound cycle which is beneficial to quality sleep—the rise and fall of the body temperature experienced after exercise, including the increasing of the heart rate, endorphins, and circulation in the body. The result is a cooler and more relaxed mind and body in the evening. The top body movement winners include:
5. Night Mode on Electronics
Refrain from bringing your electronics into the sacred place of where you snooze. Aim for at least 2 hours before you hit the hay for any smart devices or television. This includes your computer or watching your favorite marathon programs on plasma screens that emit blue lights.
Blue lights stimulate the optic lens, telling your brain that it is morning, and to stay alert. Blue lights also disrupt the circadian rhythm, further disrupting your sleep success. If you must watch, switch the screen to nighttime mode or wear blue light blocking glasses. This helps to cut the blue optic lights that stimulate the optic nerve prevents melatonin from being produced, which your body needs for sleep. As a bonus, pull the plug on your internet router or set a timer for the Wi-Fi to sleep when you do as well. Try reading a physical book or listening to a calming audio book in a dim lit room instead.
Experiencing consistent quality and quantity sleep for optimal body wellness and weight loss success is imperative and must not be overlooked. Many adults report not getting enough! The way society is trending (more screens, eating when emotionally charged, reaching for caffeine to get through the day being too sedentary) demands that we pay more attention to gaining better balance and incorporating consistent mindfulness practices that will create better environments for solid sleep.
Good sleep habits need to be practiced if sustained and optimal health is of top priority. Take this list of tips and try incorporating them into your daily health and wellness protocols and finally overcome sleep deprivation and lose the stubborn weight for good.
Nancy Lin is a Holistic Nutritionist, who believes in honest and optimum wellness through fundamental lifestyle practices. She holds a master’s degree in Rehabilitation Therapy with an emphasis in Cognitive Disorders from the University of Florida. She has also conducted clinical research, assisted with dietary supplement product formulations, development and testing, and practiced therapeutic care at hospitals and rehabilitation centers in Florida and California.
Nancy believes in an integrative, comprehensive, and functional approach to your body and brain’s best ability with emphasis on addressing the root cause of health issues, not just treating symptoms. Her use of food with dietary supplements, and functional movement are at the core of what she preaches.