If you’re eating and exercising right, but still not losing weight, could poor sleep be to blame?
Most of us realise that we’re probably not getting as much sleep as we should be. The story usually goes like this…you get home late from work, hustle together a quick dinner, watch a bit of TV, check up on the latest news on your phone and before you know it it’s already approaching midnight, and that goal of an early night is now a distant memory.
It’s a bad habit trap that many of us fall into. Almost 3/4 of us Brits (74%) sleep less than 7 hours per night, with the ‘racing mind’ listed as being the top cause of sleeplessness. This is having a massive knock-on effect on every aspect of our lives, including our energy levels, mood, health, work performance and relationships.
But what has this got to do with weight loss?
According to a recent study by the University of Leeds, adults in the UK who have poor sleep patterns are more likely to be overweight or obese and have a higher chance of developing conditions such as insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure.
Chronic sleep deprivation can lead to elevated levels of the stress hormone cortisol in the body. Cortisol is an important hormone for regulating our sleep patterns, that peaks in the morning to wake us up, and tapers off throughout the day. We need a healthy dose of cortisol to help regulate our internal circadian rhythms, but chronic stress or sleep restriction can cause our cortisol levels to be abnormally elevated when it should normally be low.
This excess cortisol can disrupt our sleep (ever wake up at 3AM with your brain on high alert?), and also prevent us easily nodding off in the first place. Catch 22 anyone?
Cortisol also promotes fat storage especially in the abdominal region and waist, due to the rush of glucose into the blood – ready to be used as energy for fighting off that angry bear coming towards you. Oh wait no that’s just your boss. I guess you won’t need all that spare glucose floating around in your blood then? In that case, fat cells – activate!
Our cravings also go into high alert due to the excess cortisol disrupting our blood sugar and hunger and satiety hormones, so that we think we’re hungry when we’re not! This may lead to you over eating which will hinder your weight loss.
So how do we train ourselves to get a good night’s sleep?
Most people need 7-9 hours of sleep per night, with 7 being the baseline. Here are some tips to help you get more of those all important zzz’s..
Make sure your sleep is a priority.
When it comes to ingrained habits we need to focus on the positive outcomes of a behaviour change. Mental clarity, performance benefits, better moods and maintaining a healthy body are just some of these.
Adjust your routine gradually
Don’t expect to go from going to bed at 12pm every night to then 2 hours earlier straight away. Do it gradually, by ensuring the light goes off 15 minutes earlier each time. Consistency is key, so try and stick to a regular routine – even at the weekends when you’re tempted to sleep in!
Make sure you’re preparing both your body and mind for sleep. Answering last minute emails or checking Facebook is going to over-stimulate your mind and make winding down much more difficult. If you find your mind busy with thoughts or tasks for the next day, empty them onto paper so that your mind can relax. Meditation can also be a great way to settle the mind into sleep.
Turn off screens
Avoid looking at screens at least 30 minutes before bed. The artificial blue-light in our smartphones, tablets and TV’s interferes with the production of melatonin – our body’s sleep hormone. Melatonin production increases with lower light levels and helps ensure a deep sleep, so it’s important to keep light levels low and screens off.
If you must look at a screen, consider dimming the brightness, using night mode or try using an app like Fl.ux – which decreases your screen’s colour temperature at night.
Avoid stimulants like caffeine or nicotine later in the day. Although we may not notice it, caffeine and alcohol can interfere with deep sleep and make us wake up earlier than normal. This can lead to us to feeling groggy and unrested.
Research shows that consistent exercise improves not only the quantity of sleep each night but also the quality. It can lift our mood, reduce stress and strengthen circadian rhythms so that we are more alert in the daytime and more ready for sleep at night.
Although sleep is essential for good health and well-being, it’s worth keeping in mind that it is not a cure-all for weight loss if other factors are still out of balance. For some however, getting enough sleep could just be the last piece of the puzzle.