What if I told you there was one practice that could make you more energized, creative, and happy.
It also can boost your immune system, improve your memory, and kickstart your mood.
Ohh, and it seriously lowers your risk for health problems like anxiety, depression, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and obesity.
It’s called sleep—it’s the thing that most of us crave but never fully capture.
So how can laying in bed for a few more hours a night help me lose weight and make me feel better?
Let me tell you a little bit about how sleep affects your weight and physical health, and give you seven secrets to a better night’s sleep.
There are four crucial hormones that contribute to both our weight and our sleep. Let’s walk through each one-by-one and see what roles they play in our health and wellbeing.
Insulin is one of the keys to controlling weight and managing the fat in our bodies. This important hormone is produced by your pancreas and has many jobs. Its main role is to regulate the levels of glucose (or sugar) in the blood and help your body’s cells absorb that glucose.
When our cells absorb too much glucose, our bodies turn the excess into stored fat. Too much insulin can lead to serious health problems like obesity, heart disease, and cancer. High blood insulin levels also make your cells resistant to the hormone, which triggers your pancreas to produce even more insulin, creating a vicious cycle.
So high insulin causes weight gain, but where does sleep come in? Sleep is like a dial for our insulin and blood sugar levels. Even after just one night of partial sleep deprivation, our blood sugar levels and insulin resistance increase.
Insulin and weight gain go hand in hand, but sleep is perhaps the easiest step you can take in lowering this hormone back to healthy levels.
Ghrelin is a hormone produced mainly by your stomach. Among its numerous roles, ghrelin increases appetite and stimulates the release of growth hormones. Nicknamed the “hunger hormone,” ghrelin sends signals to your brain to eat more, increases food intake, and promotes fat storage.
The lower your levels of ghrelin, the more full you’ll feel, and the easier it will be to control overeating. So, if you want to lose or maintain your weight, lowering your ghrelin levels can help.
How does this relate to sleep?
A lack of adequate sleep triggers increased levels of ghrelin. Not only will you be up for more hours and have more opportunities to snack, but you’ll also experience a boost of your “eat more” hormone. On the flip side, a good night’s sleep will help to keep those hunger hormones at bay.
If ghrelin is the “hunger hormone,” leptin is the “I’ll just have half a water, thank you” hormone. Leptin suppresses hunger in the brain and decreases your appetite. This hormone is secreted by fat cells and affects the way our bodies store and burn energy, as well as boosting the immune system, reducing inflammation, and creating healthy bones.
Have you ever gotten the late-night munchies? Sleep is intricately involved in our hunger hormones that cause such cravings. When we get less sleep than we need, our ghrelin levels increase by 28%, and our leptin levels decrease by 19%.
When we’re under stress, healthy eating habits can be difficult to maintain. In addition to grabbing a drive-through meal during a busy day or stress-binging cheese puffs while finishing up a big work project, stress is linked to our body’s cortisol balance.
Cortisol plays many roles in the body, but it’s mainly known as the “stress hormone.” Secreted by the adrenal glands, this hormone is highest in the morning and urges our bodies to wake up. It’s one of the fight or flight hormones that fills your body with energy when under continued stress—whether that’s physical stress or emotional stress.
An excess of cortisol in the body can cause major changes in your body’s metabolism. It stimulates insulin release and increases appetite for sweet, high-fat, and salty foods, and can cause diabetes and obesity. High cortisol also lowers your body’s testosterone and, therefore, decreases muscle mass. With less testosterone to build muscle, your body starts to burn even fewer calories.
Of course, sleep is one of the best, if not the easiest, solutions for lowering high cortisol levels. A bad night’s sleep or prolonged sleep deprivation leads to increased cortisol in the bloodstream. Even just a nap will cause a drop in cortisol levels and help reverse the effects of nighttime sleep loss on cortisol.
Sleep majorly improves the levels of these four hormones and your physical health.
Sadly, adults around the globe are struggling to sleep as much as they need. Although the average adult needs at least 7 and up to 9 hours of sleep per night, most adults are getting less than the lowest recommended amount of daily sleep.
While sleep is a key player, it’s not the only factor at play.
Our diets are directly tied to the rise and fall of these hormones, as well as exercise. As good practice, avoid inflammatory foods with bad fats, increase your healthy fats intake, and practice daily activity.
How can you improve your sleep and enjoy its many benefits?
Try out these top seven tips when you’re settling in for the night:
We have so many demands on our time. To fit it all in, we often skip a few hours of some well-needed rest. But sleep significantly affects our physical and mental health. So start trying our seven sleep hacks tonight and see how they work for you.
Note: This post was updated from a previous article on sleep published in September 2019.