The question ‘how often do you have trouble getting to sleep or staying asleep?’ might be more important than you think.
We all know that after a good night’s sleep life seems better. The sun shines brighter, we see things clearer, and we even have more patience for that annoying person at work.
So it comes as no surprise that the uphill struggle of losing weight might be easier too, but scientists think it’s more complex than just the fact that less sleep makes us more likely to skip our exercise class.
Studies have shown that getting less than 6 hours sleep a night on a regular basis changes the level of hormones in our body, for example it increases the amount of cortisol (a stress hormone) and decreases the amount of growth hormone we produce, which has been linked to a bigger waist size. It also makes us less sensitive to hormones such as insulin. To compensate our body produces more of that hormone. As insulin favours the storage of fat, this isn’t a good thing if we are trying to lose weight.
Poor sleep has also been shown to alter hormones that control our appetite, specifically ghrelin which increases our hunger levels and leptin which helps signal that we are full.
Chronic sleep loss may also affect the reward centres in our brain, making us more likely to crave energy dense foods. In studies sleep restricted people have been shown to prefer carbohydrate-rich foods, they were also more likely to eat more over the course of the day. This makes sense as we tend to seek food (or sugary drinks and coffee) for energy when we are tired.
Combine this with the fact that if we are tired we are less likely to exercise and are also more likely to sit down for longer periods of the day, so we burn less energy.
Sleep deprivation which is defined as less than 6 hours sleep per night or poor quality sleep (which happens if you wake up frequently during the night) causes hormone imbalances, increases cravings for unhealthy foods, alters your appetite so you are more likely to feel hungry and less satisfied after meals, reduces the energy you burn and negatively affects your natural circadian rhythms. All in all not good news if you are trying to lose weight.
What to do…
If you are burning the candle at both ends and you have the power to prioritise sleep over other things in life, put on your PJs and get a few early nights. You can still be a rock star and go to bed at 9pm
If you dream of earlier nights but you work shifts or you have little people or other life commitments that mean a good night’s sleep is impossible, then hopefully this article helps to explain why weight loss can be so difficult, be kind to yourself and try not to beat yourself up. Getting out for some fresh air, regular meals and even trying a mindfulness app can all help to improve your general wellbeing and may improve sleep quality.
Sometimes medical problems can cause poor quality sleep (such as obstructive sleep apnoea), so for some people a trip to the GP may help.
For more tips and advice go to www.sleepcouncil.org.uk