If I told you that the key to meeting your dieting goals is sleeping you’d probably think it was too good to be true. Well you are probably right, but studies have shown that getting enough sleep could be the final piece in the jigsaw for dieters. From a lack of energy on your after work run or an imbalance of important hunger regulating hormones, sleep deprivation can really send you down an unhealthy path. So, sleep your way to that summer body, but not too literally!
Short term tiredness leading to long term weight problems
One of the biggest problems facing those who don’t get enough sleep is fatigue. This can lead to skipping exercise or looking to unhealthy alternatives to cooking such as takeaways or fast food. There are also problems with the types of food your body craves when you are tired. Does drinking a strong coffee to get out of bed or grabbing a quick sugary snack to keep you awake from lunch until the end of your working day sound familiar? These foods will give you a temporary energy boost, but in the long term, habits like these will affect your waistline, as they won’t satisfy your hunger for long enough to keep you full like a substantial meal would do. These fast release sugars aren’t giving you enough of your essential nutrients, are bad for your teeth and can lead to an increased chance of obesity and type 2 diabetes. All in all, it is better to get a good night’s sleep when possible and avoid the ‘quick-fix’ addictive sugary substitutes for sleep!
Your hormones are making you hungry
Your body is an expert at knowing what you need. And while you sleep, your body is recovering from your day and preparing for the next one. There are two important hormones regarding hunger which are regulated when you sleep; Ghrelin and Leptin. Ghrelin, often referred to as ‘the hunger hormone’, regulates appetite and controls the distribution and rate of use of energy. Ghrelin is released when your stomach is empty, to trigger a desire for food. This makes sure you don’t suffer from prolonged starvation and enables the body to get extra calories when needed, although it has no effect on meal size. Essentially, when ghrelin levels are high, you consume more food. Leptin does the opposite. It helps to regulate energy balance by inhibiting hunger, through action on the hypothalamus, an important region of the brain, and therefore is high when the body has enough energy to meet its needs. The balance of these two hormones is essential when we consume food.
Not sleeping makes you want to eat
So, here’s where sleep (or lack of it) comes into play. During sleep, leptin levels increase and ghrelin levels decrease. This is due to the fact that, when asleep, the body requires far less energy than when awake and therefore needs less calories from the diet. Not getting enough sleep means the body’s hormone levels don’t level out as they normally should, meaning sleep deprivation leads to an increase in ghrelin and a fall in leptin levels. This affects the crucial balance of the two. This means that even when your body doesn’t need food, it will still crave calories. The imbalance will also affect the body’s metabolism as high ghrelin levels will reduce calorie burning, as the body thinks there’s a shortage, and low leptin levels can slow your metabolism, meaning it’s more likely that you will put on weight. Ghrelin has a role in the long-term regulation of body weight too, so therefore your problems could be amplified by long-term sleep deprivation. Ghrelin and leptin are trying to look after you, but, if you don’t get enough sleep, their imbalance can hinder your weight loss and give you an extra hurdle to achieving your dream body.
Maximising sleep time and quality
To help optimise your pattern of sleeping, the NHS recommends sleeping at regular times, making sure you wind down (relaxation exercises such as yoga can be very beneficial) and making your bedroom ‘sleep friendly’ (dark, cool, quiet, and comfortable). There are also apps and sleep monitors that can enable you to determine how well your sleep patterns are being established and whether you need to make changes to your sleep schedule. Sleeping is important for recharging your batteries for the next day, so try not to skimp on it! It could be a diet saver!
Try to get your 8 hours, but don’t strive for too much more
So, there are definitely benefits to avoiding sleep deprivation on your diet. Good news for dieters who love a good night’s sleep! However, people are busy and it is not always possible to get the recommended 8 hours (although the optimum may vary between people) when there are deadlines looming or your kids just won’t stop waking you up at 5am. My advice is simply to try and avoid sleeps shorter than 4-5 hours as much as possible and try and to keep your sleep patterns as consistent as your life lets you. This doesn’t mean sleeping for 12 hours will make you look like an extra from Baywatch either! It’s all about trying and to get the right amount of sleep and the benefits of your weight loss plan will start becoming more visible. Another hour in bed could be key to losing those last few pounds.