Sleep and Weight Loss


Back when I was in college, being a morning person was a problem. No matter how late I stayed up, I’d always wake around the same time: 6am. That was fine, as long as I went to bed nice and early. But when socializing went late into the night, waking up that early, even on weekends, was torture. Now I get up even earlier; it’s like my circadian rhythm had a board meeting and unilaterally decided on a universal wake-time without my consent.

Now that I have to get up early, I realize how fortunate I am. I don’t suffer from insomnia. Aside from the occasional stress-related grinding – mitigated by a mouth guard – my sleep patterns are pretty normal.

There’s a fair bit of research to show that sleep and weight loss are connected. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, about 65% of Americans are now overweight or obese, and evidence suggests a link between poor sleep and obesity, and also the inverse: that obesity affects sleep.

Obesity can contribute to sleep issues like apnea, which impacts sleep quality and restfulness, while a 1999 study performed at the University Chicago suggests that building up sleep debt – that is, insufficient hours of sleep built over long periods – impairs metabolism and negatively affects hormone levels. Moreover, by restricting the sleep hours of 11 healthy young adults, scientists found that the participants’ ability to process glucose to the point where, in some cases, the decrease hit diabetic levels.

Later studies concluded that to keep blood sugar levels normal, sleepers averaging 6.5 hours of sleep or less needed 30% more insulin than sleepers without restrictions to maintain normal insulin levels. Research also suggests that sleep deprivation leads to a decrease in leptin, which promotes appetite.

So how can you improve your sleep?

Avoid Caffeine

Once ingested, caffeine’s stimulating effects will keep you going for several hours. It takes around six hours for the caffeine in that cup of coffee to be eliminated. Try to set limits about how late in the day you consume caffeine.

Pre-Sleep Routines

Studies show that night-time rituals promote healthy sleep patterns. Try some soft pre-sleep music to get in the mood and facilitate relaxation.

Shut Off Those Electronics

There’s evidence to suggest that the so-called ‘blue light’ from computer and cell phone screens mimics sunlight, throwing your body’s sense of night and day out of wack. Limit computer and cell phone use before bed.

Avoid Exercise (Except That Kind)

Exercise can spike your adrenaline levels and keep your brain whirring for hours. Aim to exercise at most two hours before bed. Unless it’s a different sort of exercise, which can actually have a positive effect on sleep quality be re-configuring hormones, stimulating the release of stress-busting cortisol and helping sleepers relax.

All of which is to say…

We spend a lot of time obsessing over our workout routines, our diet, and how many pounds we’ve lost. It’s high time we paid the same attention to how much we sleep.