One of the most precious things for many adults is sleep. Young children wake you up, or you wake up early to juggle a busy work and family schedule. These are only a few of the many reasons adults struggle to get enough sleep. But did you know that not getting enough sleep may be influencing your ability to lose weight?
Less Sleep Makes you “Hangry”
Not getting enough sleep is related to a higher weight. Sleeping less than 7 hours a night makes you more likely to develop obesity in the future, for example. This may be due to changes in the way your body works when you are sleep deprived.
Sleep deprivation affects the hormones that regulate hunger and appetite. Ghrelin is a hormone that makes you feel hungry. It increases following sleep restriction. Leptin does the opposite and reduces your appetite. Leptin decreases with sleep restriction. These hormonal changes translate to cravings for calorie rich food. All together these changes would make you feel hungrier, and you tend to eat more.
It is tempting to wonder if sleeping more can help with weight loss. If sleeping too little can lead to weight gain, sleeping more should lead to weight loss, right? This was a reasonable guess, but it was just a guess until recently.
Is More Sleep Helpful for Weight Loss?
A recent study had sleep-deprived adults sleep more to see what would happen. For two weeks one group increased their sleep by an average of 1.2 hours per night. The other group continued their sleep deprived ways for comparison. The group that slept more reduced their food intake by 240 calories a day without any conscious effort. Their body weight reduced over the two weeks compared to the control group. Let me emphasize, no one was trying to lose weight in this study. It happened because of the sleep.
This study was done in overweight adults, so it is hard to say what would happen in adults with obesity. The study did not include pregnant or breastfeeding women either. Results may be different in pregnant or breastfeeding mothers. It is also possible that the effect could change after two weeks. A longer study would be good to confirm that these findings hold over time.
But let us be honest, these findings are music to everyone’s ears. Who would have thought that sleeping more might help with weight loss? And all this time we thought we had to exercise ridiculously hard like little gerbils, not rest! (To be honest exercise is a helpful complement to dietary changes for weight loss. More on that another time though).
I probably don’t need to tell you this. I know you want more sleep. But I think the evidence is strong enough that you should try to address sleep deprivation for the sake of your health. You don’t just want more sleep; you also need it. Less sleep is related to obesity as I mentioned but also other diseases like cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
How Do I Get More Sleep?
For adults, getting more sleep can be complicated. We tend to take a lot on, and we do not value our time as much as we should. It can feel difficult to ask for help if doing so means we are not fulfilling the expectations of those around us. So, making changes to get more sleep may feel uncomfortable. That discomfort may be the cost of better sleep and better health. But it’s a cost worth paying.
You may struggle to get enough sleep because of demands on your time. If that includes a young child waking you frequently, ask a partner or friend for help. If a partner lives in the house, create night shifts for “baby duty” so that both partners get enough sleep. Or a friend or nanny can help watch your children while you take a nap to catch up from a rough night. A part-time or full-time day care can also help you catch up on missed sleep.
If there are other demands getting in the way of your sleep, consider that sleeping enough can increase productivity. If your mood and focus are good because of adequate sleep, you can accomplish more in a shorter amount of time. Sometimes, turning in for the night and waking up fresh to tackle what you are working on is the best choice. Otherwise, your work or other duties can drag on into the night and they get done poorly.
Sleep routines, sleep hygiene, mental health, and physical health also affect sleep. Here is a checklist for issues that may be playing a role.
- An irregular schedule. Sleeping and waking at regular times each day can help regulate your sleep cycle.
- A bad sleep environment. A dark room that is quiet and the right temperature for sleeping is critical.
- Tobacco and caffeine use prevent good sleep.
- Anxiety. If your mind is racing and keeping you from sleep, you may be suffering from anxiety. You should mention this to your doctor.
- Eating large meals and/or drinking alcohol before sleeping. This can cause discomfort and acid reflux that keeps you from sleeping.
- Sleep Apnea. If you snore heavily and wake often at night you may have sleep apnea and should mention this to your doctor.
- Menopause. If you are going through menopause and it is disrupting your sleep, mention this to your doctor. Hormone replacement therapy may help.
If I already get enough sleep, will more sleep help me lose weight?
If you already get enough sleep, that is great. That means your sleep is not likely influencing your food intake or your ability to lose weight. There is no need to sleep more than 7–9 hours. Sleeping even more does not have any added benefit for your appetite or ability to lose weight.
What if I Cannot Get More Sleep Right Now?
Of course, there may be times in life where more sleep is not a possibility. In that case, you may be more likely to feel very hungry and be vulnerable to weight gain. Here are three strategies that can help control hunger.
Stay Hydrated. Sometimes getting a glass of water for yourself is not your priority. So, take a moment to fill a large bottle of water up in the morning and keep it near you. Get 64 ounces a day. Adequate hydration soothes irritability and fatigue and helps control hunger. If you are reaching for something to eat when it is not time to eat, try taking a drink first and see if you feel better. It is easy to mistake thirst for hunger.
Get Enough Protein at Each Meal. Protein has a lasting effect on fullness and will help control your hunger. You may be craving carbohydrates and fat, but do not forget to eat a good source of protein with every meal. Focus on high protein snacks, rather than high carbohydrate snacks, as well.
Eat Regular Meals to Prevent Severe Hunger. There are moments when making decisions about what you eat feels ridiculously hard. The most vulnerable moments are after a stressful day of taking care of everyone except yourself. If you do not eat well throughout the day, it is very natural to seek a calorie-rich meal and eat until you are very full. Your body and mind subconsciously feel that is a clever idea because your track record suggests it’s unclear when you will get a good meal again. So, eating good meals throughout the day is important to prevent these moments. It is best to fuel your body for the work ahead, and not the work already done.