You Snooze, You Lose: The Connection Between Sleep and Weight Loss

Lose weight while you sleep.  Sound too good to be true?  Well, this is one time when too good to be true is yes, really true!  There is substantial medical evidence suggesting some fascinating links between sleep and weight. Researchers say that how much you sleep and quite possibility the quality of your sleep may silently orchestrate a symphony of hormonal activity tied to your appetite. 

David Rapoport, MD, associate professor and director of the Sleep Medicine Program at the New York University School of Medicine in New York City states that while doctors have long known that many hormones are affected by sleep, it wasn’t until recently that appetite entered the picture. What brought it into focus, he says, was research on the hormones leptin and ghrelin. First, doctors say that both can influence our appetite. And studies show that production of both may be influenced by how much or how little we sleep.

How Hormones Affect Your Sleep

Ghrelin, which is produced in the gastrointestinal tract, stimulates appetite, while leptin, produced in fat cells, sends a signal to the brain when you are full.  When you don’t get enough sleep, it drives leptin levels down, which means you don’t feel satisfied after you eat.  Lack of sleep also causes ghrelin levels to rise, which can stimulate your appetite causing you to want more food.

The combination can cause you to eat more often and consume more food resulting in weight gain. And in a recent sleep study conducted at the University of Illinois in Chicago on the connection between ghrelin and leptin, participants deprived of sleep, craved high carbohydrate, calorie-dense foods.

Sleep Study

It was in a Stanford study, however, that the more provocative meaning of the leptin-ghrelin effect came to light. In this research — a joint project between Stanford and the University of Wisconsin — about 1,000 volunteers reported the number of hours they slept each night. Doctors then measured their levels of ghrelin and leptin, as well as charted their weight.

The result: Those who slept less than eight hours a night not only had lower levels of leptin and higher levels of ghrelin, but they also had a higher level of body fat. What’s more, that level of body fat seemed to correlate with their sleep patterns. Specifically, those who slept the fewest hours per night weighed the most.

Establishing Good Sleep Habits

Get a good night’s sleep every night with these simple steps.

Cut caffeine. Simply put, caffeine can keep you awake. It can stay in your body longer than you might think – the effects of caffeine can take as long as eight hours to wear off.

Avoid alcohol as a sleep aid. Alcohol may initially help you fall asleep, but it also causes disturbances in sleep resulting in less restful sleep.

Relax before bedtime. Stress not only makes you miserable, it wreaks havoc on your sleep.

Exercise at the right time for you. Regular exercise can help you get a good night’s sleep. Since exercise can be stimulating, it’s usually best to do it in the morning.

Keep your bedroom quiet, dark, and comfortable. Keep the temperature between 55 and 70 degrees and keep the room as dark as possible. For some people, even the slightest light or noise can be disturbing.

Eat right, sleep tight. Try not to go to bed hungry, but avoid heavy meals before bedtime. A small protein snack may stabilize blood sugar and prevent a hypoglycemic drop in the wee hours of the morning causing you to wake up.  Don’t drink a lot of water right before bed either so don’t have to get up and use the bathroom.

Remove all electronics.  The noise, lights and electromagnetic currents from computers and TVs can interfere with sleep activity.  Remove them from your bedroom if at all possible.  At the very least, turn them OFF, not in hibernate and cover your TV screen.

Avoid napping. Napping can only make matters worse if you usually have problems falling asleep. If you do nap, keep it short. A brief 15-20-minute snooze about eight hours after you get up in the morning can actually be rejuvenating.

Try Natural Supplements.  There are some very good natural products that help induce sleep and don’t carry the harmful or addicting side effects as pharmaceutical agents such Ambien or Lunesta. Stay away from Tylenol PM or Benadryl too except for occasional use.

Avoid watching TV, eating, and discussing emotional issues in bed. The bed should be used for sleep and sex only. If not, you can end up associating the bed with distracting activities that could make it difficult for you to fall asleep.

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