I like to sleep. And not just any sleep but good, quality sleep! Getting a good nights sleep is as important to your health as eating, drinking and breathing. Not only is getting a good nights sleep important for keeping your body in optimal health, but did you know that if you're trying to lose weight, the amount of sleep you get may be just as important as your diet and exercise? Yup! But, I’ll talk more about that a little later on.
As I began to write about this topic, one of my favorite movies, While You Were Sleeping came to my mind. If you haven’t seen it, it’s a romantic comedy starring Sandra Bullock who is mistaken for the fiancée of a coma patient. Now long story short, while this guy is “out for the count” lying in a hospital bed, Bullock's character actually falls in love with his brother. And at the end of the movie when (Bullock) is asked, when, had this happened, she simply answers, “It was while you were sleeping.”
Just like in the movie where a whole lot of action was taking place while the coma patient “was out,” the same can be said for us as well while we are “out” during sleep. I would say that most individuals go to bed at night because they are tired, and well…it’s just what we do at night, right? But I wonder if they realize all that is going on in their bodies while they lie sleeping? Most people tend to think of sleep as a time when the mind and body shut down. But that is not so!
During sleep your brain is actually engaged in a number of activities necessary to life and even closely linked to quality of life. But what does sleep have to do with losing weight you might ask? Well, let me tell you. There are two hormones in your body that play a very important role in controlling your appetite and satiety (being full to satisfaction); ghrelin and leptin. Ghrelin is released in the stomach and signals your brain that you are hungry. Levels are high before you eat, which is when your stomach is empty, and low after you eat. Leptin is released from fat cells. It suppresses hunger and tells your brain when you are full.
When you do not get adequate sleep, your body makes more ghrelin and less leptin, leaving you hungry and increasing your appetite even when your body doesn’t need food. Along with ghrelin and leptin, your body has a third hormone called cortisol. Cortisol is a stress hormone that may also increase your appetite when you do not get adequate sleep and is associated with fat gain.
Isn’t it amazing how our bodies work? I don’t think most people would put lack of sleep and weight issues together—but it’s right there in black and white isn’t it? When we are tired, our bodies make less of the hormone leptin and more of the hunger hormone ghrelin. As a result, our sleepy brains urge us to find an energy pick-up in the form of calories. And I guess it’s a no brainer that if our appetite is increasing then we are going to go on the prowl for something to eat.
Willpower isn’t exactly high when you are sleepy either. If you are eating late at night, you are more likely to make poor food choices. According to a 2011 study published in the journal Obesity, night owls consume an average of 248 more calories per day than those who go to bed earlier. So, not only does a lack of sleep mess with our hunger signals, but it’s a given that less time in bed simply gives us more hours of the day to eat.
Think about this. We all know that the first meal of the day is called breakfast. If you divide the word you will see it is made up of two parts, “break” and “fast.” To fast means to go without food. So “breakfast” means to break the fast you’ve been observing since you went to sleep the night before. If you are a night owl like I mentioned earlier and into midnight munching, and then you eat breakfast later that morning, I’d say your breakfast isn’t breaking much of a fast.
During the day, your body uses some of the calories you eat for fuel and the rest gets stored in the liver in the form of glycogen. At night while you sleep, your body converts that glycogen into glucose and releases it into your bloodstream to keep your blood-sugar level steady. Here’s the exciting part—once the stored glycogen is gone, your liver starts burning fat cells for energy. BUT, it takes a few hours to use up the day’s glycogen stores. If your “fast” isn’t long enough your body may never get a chance to burn any fat before you start reloading (eating) your glycogen stores again.
So, now that you’ve been armed with this knowledge, maybe it’s a good time to create and stick to a healthy bedtime routine. Go to bed at the same time each night and get up at the same time each morning. Give yourself enough time in bed to get seven to nine hours of sleep. Being consistent each night and even on the weekends will help reinforce your body’s sleep-wake cycle.
I hope this blog has been enlightening for you, especially if you have never made the connection between lack of sleep and possible weight issues.