Caloriegate is proud to welcome freelance journalist, Ali Jan Qadir, with a fascinating guest post on the relationship between sleep and weight gain. Enjoy!
“Sleep your way to weight loss” is a sentence that everyone who’s trying to lose weight would welcome with some enthusiasm. But it may be dismissed in the very next breath—surely it’s too good to be true, right? You may be surprised to find that there is actual medical fact behind the assertion.
So how, you may ask, can a person lose weight by sleeping? Well the answer lies with the hormones at work in our body which regulate all the processes within the complex factory that is our body. When we sleep our hypothalamic and pituitary glands’ release of hormones is regulated in a certain way, and also the autonomic nervous system changes its operations as some activities are increased while others are slowed down. So when we are sleep deprived there are three hormones whose production changes affect weight by affecting our eating habits.
Cortisol is a stress hormone which is reduced by lack of sleep and in turn it stimulates our appetites, and so we end up eating more and hence gaining weight.
Ghrelin is a hormone which is produced by the gastrointestinal tract and its function is to stimulate our appetites, so in a normal person who doesn’t suffer from sleep deprivation, ghrelin is released whenever the body is in need of energy or when our senses detect something which we have trained our brain, through experience, to consider delectable. But a lack of sleep disturbs the hormonal activity of our body and leads to excess release of ghrelin and therefore a person with a ghrelin imbalance is bound to eat more than the amount required or desired.
Leptin is produced within the fat cells and its function is to signal to the brain when the stomach is full and eating should stop. Sleeplessness reduces the amount of leptin release in our bodies and hence when we eat we never feel fully satisfied and want more.
So a combination of these three hormones ensures that we end up overeating. On top of that the glucose metabolism rate is also driven into an imbalance which makes our body store the energy intake of the day in the form of fats instead of burning it. This further adds to the weight gain problem. Also during a prolonged sleep one goes into the REM(random eye movement) stage of sleep in which the highest amount of calories are burnt while sleeping, but when a person is taking abbreviated sleep spells, one skips this step altogether as the REM stage only occurs in deep uninterrupted sleep.
So now that it is established that sleeping helps significantly in weight loss, we move on to how to address the issue of sleeplessness and weight gain. Usually at least six hours of sleep are recommended for a healthy normal individual. Any less and one falls into the sleep deprived category. Now in order to avoid weight gain one can take two approaches:
Regulate and improve eating habits so that one simply loses weight via burning more calories than one takes in, i.e., a net loss of calories. That sounds easy enough; just stop caving into the overly stimulated appetite and ignore the unwarranted feelings of having an empty stomach created by the hormonal imbalance.
But unfortunately for us weak-willed humans the idiom ‘mind over matter’ becomes a little too literal and it becomes increasingly difficult to control what are hormones and thus the mind is urging us to do, and so the solution doesn’t lie in the treatment of symptoms but rather in the root of the problem: the lack of sleep that is causing the hormonal imbalance in the first place.
So to improve one’s sleeping habits one must first identify the things which are affect our sleep, for instance, one must acknowledge the fact that for most people there is only a limited amount of time available for sleep and prioritizing things other than sleep leads to a lack of sleep so certain things need to be avoided and certain others need to be adopted:
Watching TV/Movies late into the night makes for a very significant contribution towards ruining the sleep routine; as not only does it take up precious time but also being exposed to a light(from the screen) keeps you from sleeping for a few additional hours using up most of your time.
Consuming chemicals which act as stimulants just before bedtime keeps you rolling in bed and disturb the sleep patterns like caffeine in Coffee or Tea, Alcohol—which may initially bring slumber but eventually act as a stimulant, Nicotine from a cigarette or other tobacco products.
Make a routine in which there are calming activities like light reading leading up to sleep. Don’t turn in before you feel mentally or physically exhausted because if you turn in too early you’ll end up lying uncomfortably awake for hours and that too will unnecessarily delay sleep.
When trying to sleep, and once you lie down and close your eyes do not open them to stare at a clock or any such thing because by lying still with your eyes closed the body dupes the mind into thinking that you’re asleep and before you know it you wander off to sleep.
Set your internal clock right. Make a consistent bracket in which you go to sleep and wake up.
Eating too much before bedtime irrespective of whether it contains stimulating chemicals, will keep you up, so avoid them.
Physical exercise always helps in putting you to sleep because of the exhaustion and also burns calories so that’s a definite addition that must be made to the daily routine.
Once you start sleeping well you will end up losing weight much faster and for once a diet and some exercise will actually be effectual. So this is how you sleep your way to weight loss.
About the Author
Ali Jan Qadir is a freelance writer who loves to learn new things and write about them. He only writes an article if he knows it’s useful to the reader. He also contributes to the blog www.thebest-mattress.org/ where he looks into things like what’s the best mattress for shoulder pain.
Follow him on twitter @alijanness.… [more]