We all know about diet and exercise, but what about the connection between sleep and weight loss? Fact is, sleeping isn’t just necessary for you to function at your best throughout the day – it also helps you keep the pounds off.
Yup, an increasingly popular piece of contemporary wisdom is that one of the best weight loss techniques is simply getting more sleep.
Just a few extra hours under the covers and you can slip back into those jeans you loved to wear back in your 20s? Surely this has to be too good to be true.
Let’s find out.
Sleep and weight loss: fact or fiction?
Sleeping to lose weight is a delicious idea, no doubt. But where does this idea come from?
For starters, it’s pretty well known that a lack of sleep can contribute, in a multitude of ways, to weight gain in the average person. This usually occurs in some subconscious psychological ways, for example; turning to sugary or fattening caffeinated products to boost your morning routine, or comfort snacking late into the night when you should be asleep.
A strong scientific basis for this last point is that a lack of sleep can hinder the natural production of particular hormones which help the body know when it’s eaten its fill – leptin being the one that tells you enough is enough, and ghrelin being the one that tells you to ignore the other guy.
A lack of sleep can hinder the production of leptin, and so eating well beyond our means increases. Thus, logically; more sleep equals more leptin, equals less eating, equals less weight?
It might not be so simple. Whilst some scientific studies have noticed a link between sleep duration and BMI (Body Mass Index) such as a thesis carried out by the University of Bergen, Norway – others suggest that sleep, or lack of, may be effecting various parts of weight gain, like high blood pressure and cholesterol levels; but that genetics play a much larger part than simply getting enough shut-eye.
That said, the persuasive evidence is there: various studies (of both genders) continuously show us that adults who aren’t getting the recommended 7 to 9 hours nightly sleep end up craving higher-fat foods, and are generally hungrier throughout the day.
One particular study, highlighted by Best Health magazine, showed that tired women ate 400 more calories a day than women who had a healthy sleeping regime, and sleep deprived men ate almost 600 calories more than those with the recommended hours under their belt.
Can sleep, by itself, help you lose weight?
Alright, so now we know the two main hormonal offenders (our pals leptin and ghrelin) that sleep can directly mess with, but is that it?
Many studies point out that a lack of sleep can increase the natural production of cortisol in the body. Cortisol, which often goes by the name of ‘The Stress Hormone’, can have some pretty heavy physical, as well as mental, effects.
Cortisol has been known to limit our ability to gain muscle (which burns more calories than fat) and increase the amount of ‘belly fat’ we’re all trying desperately to get rid of – not to mention it can boost those depressive/anxiety symptoms we covered earlier; turning it into a hellish circle of sleepless misery.
Here’s where we need to start looking at the way sleep can help with other forms of weight loss, rather than being the sole solution (Sorry, I know. I wanted to sleep my way through the holidays, too).
Sleep and weight loss comes down to cortisol
Let’s stick with cortisol for a second – you may be aware of mindfulness and meditation as popular techniques for combating stress and depression. In fact, an insightful study carried out by the University of California, split a large group of overweight women into two sections. One group would take part in weekly meditation sessions for nine weeks, whilst the other group would continue on as normal.
The mindful group would meditate for thirty minutes per day, and then approach their eating habits from this more open mental perspective – as a result, these women had much lower levels of Cortisol and maintained their body weight, whilst the other group gained weight.
Now, this all comes full circle to the sleep discussion, as meditation is a highly recommended form of sleep aide. Simple breathing exercises alone have been known to drastically improve the slumber patterns of troubled sleepers, which in turn will greatly regulate the body’s hormone levels and help to put you back on an even keel when it comes to appetite.
In this instance, sleep plus meditation could very well be the equation for putting a halt to weight gain.
The physical power of sleep
An important note to make about the last study – in which the women with less cortisol maintained their weight, but didn’t actually lose any, is that they weren’t involved in any exercise regime.
As we talked about earlier, when you don’t get enough sleep, you’ll feel sluggish, lethargic, unmotivated to get out and pound a treadmill, but if you get yourself on to a regular healthy sleep schedule, you’ll begin to find the prospect of a cold morning run, or a session in the gym that much more manageable.
So, in this scenario – the power of sleep to regulate the mental mood, as well as the body’s production of hormones, and its influence over our physicality can be a hugely powerful force in a well-structured weight loss regime.
So, to the answer: does sleeping help you lose weight? Yes, it absolutely can help.
In some extreme cases it may even be the tipping point that stops weight gain in its tracks; but is it enough to lose weight, in and of itself? Very unlikely.
The best way to look at the weight aspect of sleep is to consider it just another part of a healthy lifestyle. You wouldn’t eat an entire birthday cake and expect to lose weight as a result, would you? Similarly, you shouldn’t regularly have late nights and short sleeps, and expect to be able to maintain a healthy waistline.
Eat well, exercise when possible, and sleep like a baby – then you’ll see the difference.