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Why Poor Sleep is Stopping You From Losing Weight

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.

The Link Between Sleep, Slim, and Strong

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

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

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. 

Leptin

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%. 

Cortisol

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. 

Don’t Put All the Weight on Sleep’s Shoulders

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. 

 

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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 to Start Sleeping Better Tonight 

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: 

  1. Shoot for 7 Hours: If getting nine hours of sleep a night seems laughable, shoot for at least seven. There are lots of sleep trackers on the market that can help you understand your sleep cycle and hold you accountable for reaching your sleep goals. The top contenders include Fitbit Versa, Sleep On Go2Sleep Tracker, Tempur-Pedic Sleeptracker, Withings Sleep, and WHOOP.
  2. Cut Out Caffeine: Did I just hear you click the back button? I know this tip isn’t going to make me popular, but cutting back on that evening cup of coffee will make reaching your sleep goals a lot easier. Consider switching to an herbal tea at night to help your body slow down. 
  3. Decompress: Help your body relax and boost your sleep-hormone—melatonin—by giving yourself time to wind down. Enjoy some meditation, stretching, or a warm bath with lavender essential oil. Do whatever helps you relax and relieve tension before hitting the sack. There are plenty of tools that can help you decompress, whether that’s a nighttime stretch routine video on Youtube or the Headspace app for guided meditations. 
  4. Set a Schedule: Whether our minds do or not, our bodies love routine, especially when it comes to sleep. You’ll have a much easier time falling asleep and catching the most healing Z’s if you get to bed and wake up around the same time each day. Check out the Sleep Cycle app if you need a little extra motivation to stick to a schedule.
  5. Drop the Temp: Our bodies naturally lower in temperature when we sleep. We can stimulate this slow down by lowering the temperature in our bedroom. The best bedroom temp for deep sleep is about 65 degrees. Probably my all-time favorite sleeping hack was adding the ChiliPad to our bedroom. It manages your temperature throughout the night. Check it out, and if you want it, use the code Amanda25 for 25% off. 
  6. Unplug from the World: In the hours leading up to your bedtime transition from the tech world to your dream world. Consider using night mode on your phone once the sun goes down. Or set your phone somewhere out of reach and leave it there until morning. While it might take a week or two to get out of the habit of scrolling through social media in bed, the benefits will make you wonder why you didn’t start this new routine long ago. 
  7. Make your Space Sleep-Friendly: Help your mind and body relax every time you settle in for the night by fencing your bedroom. Make a mental association between your bed and sleep, rather than the place where you watch tv, surf the web, or read for long hours into the night. Make your bedroom extra comfortable by keeping it clean, putting up some black-out curtains, and adding some soft sheets, plush pillows, and weighted blankets to the bed. 

Sneak in a Few Extra Z’s Tonight

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. 

If all this sleep talk has you hooked on prioritizing your health and wellness, hop on our free weekly LEAN newsletter, or join the 7-week LEAN program today.

Note: This post was updated from a previous article on sleep published in September 2019. 

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