Bears get huge before their winter hibernation then wake up many pounds lighter in the spring. Although you may not be able to sleep away the pounds like a bear, there is a direct correlation between getting enough quality sleep and weight loss.
“When you carry around extra pounds, you can have trouble staying active, low energy, and difficulty sleeping,”
– Dr. Walter Willett, professor of epidemiology and nutrition,
Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health
We recognize there are many factors related to your weight such as genetics, age, activity, mental health, stress, hormones and more. Yet the connection and consequences of not getting enough quality sleep on your weight loss and gain are real. Could sleep be the missing link to reaching your weight loss goals?
Sleep Deprivation and Weight Gain
Science has proven that when you sleep too little, you’re more likely to gain weight. So, the first question to ask yourself is: “Am I sleep deprived?” According to the National Sleep Foundation, “healthy adults need between 7 and 9 hours of sleep per night.” If you’re sleeping less, then you are very likely sleep deprived. Although some people are “short sleepers” (nothing to do with how tall they are!). People who actually thrive on less than the recommended amount of sleep account for about 1% of the population. Therefore, it’s highly unlikely you can get by on less than the recommended 7 to 9 hours.
Summarizing several scientific studies about sleep and appetite:
“… in men, short sleep promotes greater appetite and desire to eat, and in women there is less of a signal that makes you stop eating.”
– Dr. Marie-Pierre St-Onge is a professor at Columbia University and the Director of the Center of Excellence for Sleep & Circadian Research
The Nurses’ Health Study
The Nurses’ Health Study has had more than 280,000 participants and is one of the largest studies of its kind to identify health risk factors for women. Their conclusions about sleep were an awakening. The women in the study who slept the least (5 hours or less nightly), gained the most weight. In fact, 30% of them gained 33 pounds or more. Getting much less sleep than you need can lead to massive weight gain.
Interestingly, those in the study who slept 7 or more hours nightly observed negligible effect on their weight.
It’s plain to see that when you don’t get enough sleep, your odds of gaining weight go up. When you regularly sleep five hours a night or less, you’re more likely to gain weight and increase the chances of gaining a lot more weight. Other risk factors like cardiovascular disease and diabetes go up, too.
Consequently, if you’re struggling to lose weight, take the first step towards personal success to losing weight and improving your overall health and wellbeing. Erase your sleep deficit. In other words, get more sleep!
Poor sleep alters your digestive function, increases inflammatory cytokines or chemicals, reduces satiety, increases hunger, increases cravings, upsets blood sugar balance, disrupts hormones, reduces your ability to detoxify the body and affects your emotions.
What you eat and how well you sleep
Science confirms a relationship between food and sleep, specifically a poor diet and bad sleep. Study upon study confirm what your gut is already telling you: eat junk, feel like junk. You know the old saying, “you are what you eat?” Eat less nutritious foods and you’ll sleep worse and be less healthy.
- Drinking more sugar-sweetened beverages has been associated with obesity, sleep debt and shorter duration of sleep in children.
- Amongst adults, poor sleep quality has a direct link with eating more and lower quality diets.
- Poor diet quality in children has a significant relationship to late sleep patterns, short sleep duration and more sleep disturbances.
- A study in Japanese adults demonstrated that white rice with its high glycemic index was significantly associated with good sleep while bread and noodles were not.
- High carbohydrate/low protein meals can result in more uptake of tryptophan increasing the production of the drowsy hormone, melatonin.
Your Hormones, Appetite, and Weight
At the end of the day, your body is one big biochemical laboratory. The foods you eat contain chemicals that cause a chain of reactions producing other chemicals inside of you. Such is the case with hormones that affect your weight. We’ll take a closer look at just a few of many.
Ghrelin is a growth hormone-releasing peptide produced in your stomach commonly known as “the hunger hormone.” It increases production several times throughout the day before meals sending a signal to your brain that it’s time to eat, i.e., that you’re hungry. This is why some dieticians recommend eating several small meals throughout the day to appease the effects of this hormone.
Ghrelin also plays a part in the sleep-wake cycle decreasing naturally after you eat and when you’re asleep. But if you don’t sleep enough, you’ll produce more of this hunger hormone!
“When people get just two hours less sleep than what their body needs, their ghrelin levels will be higher the next day.”
– Marjorie Nolan Cohn, MS, RDN, CDN, ACSM-HE, author of The Belly Fat Fix
Leptin is ghrelin’s opposite. When you’re full, the body releases leptin from fat cells sending a signal to your brain that your body has stored enough energy and it’s time to put down your fork. This hormone affects energy storage, blood pressure, and your immune system, too. Leptin levels remain higher while you sleep but, if you don’t sleep enough, your body will produce less leptin.
In a nutshell, ghrelin stimulates your appetite and leptin reduces your appetite. Sleep deprivation increases your hunger hormone (ghrelin) and decreases the hormone signaling that you’re full (leptin). It’s no wonder you can feel so hungry making it hard to lose weight when you aren’t getting enough sleep.
Food as Medicine
Fuel your body the right things at the right time to get trimmer and avoid gaining weight in the first place. While its easy to want a “magic bullet” like a supplement or diet pill, that’s just too simplistic. How the body processes food is a complex mechanism as are the phases of sleep and staying physically fit. There are things you can do to stay as healthy as you can naturally. Even Superstar athlete Lebron James, the NBA superstar player currently with the Los Angeles Lakers, is famous for many reasons including how much he sleeps—up to 10 hours a day! He knows how to stay in top form.
“At 18 and 20, you’re just doing it off straight-up energy and straight skill. But at 38 for me, it’s mental. How much rest I can get from day to day, get my optimal sleep, get the right food in me, treat my body right.”
– Lebron James, Los Angeles Lakers / NBA Superstar 
Lebron’s approach to get the best rest and feed his body the right food is inspirational. Adopting his philosophy, sleep for optimal rest and recovery are a top priority along with some good health habits and avoiding things that won’t help you reach your goals.
Practical tips to get enough sleep and maintain a healthy weight.
DO these things for better sleep:
- Eat more filling protein rich foods.
- Eat more nuts. There are numerous studies supporting how beneficial nuts are to your health.
- Eat more omega-3 fats to improve leptin resistance. Eating a handful of walnuts or almonds every day is a good idea and a great bedtime snack to stave off hunger when you go to sleep.
- Get an hour in the sun every day because low vitamin D levels have been connected to obesity and being overweight. If you suspect your vitamin D is low, test don’t guess so you can supplement safely.
- Go to bed an hour earlier. No one ever complained about getting more sleep.
- Go to bed and wake up about the same time every single day.
DON’T do these things:
- Eat huge meals too close to bedtime.
- Eat a lot of spicy or fatty food late in the evening to prevent heartburn and indigestion.
- Exercise right before you go to bed. Earlier in the day is better for your sleep.
- Smoke cigarettes before bed because nicotine is a stimulant that affects sleep but is adverse to your health overall. Better yet, don’t smoke cigarettes at all! Try tapering off by smoking one less cigarette daily for a week at a time so you can eventually quit.
- Sleep with your smartphone on or electronics in the bedroom.
- Take a nap after 3pm and maybe not at all if you have trouble falling asleep.
- Consume caffeine or energy drinks after lunchtime.
Get serious about your sleep!
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You probably have questions. We are here to answer them all! Contact us today.
DISCLAIMER: Natural by Design, Corp d/b/a/ SAMINA Sleep provides articles for informational purposes and does not serve as medical/health advice, diagnosis, or treatment. For serious sleep and health problems, we urge you to seek the care of a licensed medical professional.