There are several factors that must be considered in order to successfully lose weight and maintain a healthy weight, such as food intake, physical activity level, health conditions, and stress. Another important factor that is not often considered is sleep. Good quality sleep is important for several facets of our health, and it is often forgone when life becomes busy, or difficult to achieve when we are stressed. It has been shown that people who sleep fewer hours each night weigh more than those who sleep more.1 This may seem counterintuitive at first, but the more we understand about sleep, the more this will make sense.
How Does Sleep Affect Our Weight?
Good quality and a sufficient quantity of sleep is necessary not only to lose weight or maintain a healthy weight, but also to keep our immune system healthy, optimize adrenal gland functioning, manage stress, feel energized, balance mood, help us focus, learn, prevent chronic diseases, and more. A study done on children found that shorter sleep duration, or a more variable sleep duration were associated with altered insulin, LDL cholesterol, and C-reactive protein levels.2 These are metabolic parameters, and when they are out of the normal range (typically elevated), this indicates an unhealthy metabolism, which can certainly predispose to weight gain, diabetes, and heart disease.
Additionally, sleep deprivation has been linked to increased levels of the hormone ghrelin (which increases appetite), and decreased levels of the hormone leptin (which decreases appetite).3 When we aren’t getting enough sleep, we are hungrier and typically consume more calories.
Steps to Achieve Better Sleep
1. Get 7 to 9 Hours of Uninterrupted Sleep Each Night
For adults, the National Sleep Foundation recommends 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night.4 I would add that the 7 to 9 hours of sleep should be uninterrupted. If you are waking up in the middle of the night, even to use the bathroom, there is room for improvement in your sleep quality.
2. Dark Room
The room that you’re sleeping in should be dark enough where you cannot see your hand in front of your face. I recommend installing blackout curtains or shades, wearing an eye mask while sleeping, or both. Also be sure that any extraneous light sources (nightlights, cable boxes, etc.) are either unplugged/off, or covered. Many people are surprised at how much better they sleep when their room achieves this level of darkness.
Be sure that your bedroom is very quiet and without music, TV, or other sounds playing. I recommend either using earplugs, or purchasing a white noise machine to mask any extraneous noises. Again, many people are surprised to find how much better they sleep when they aren’t hearing small noises.
4. Avoid Blue Light 1 Hour Before Bed
I recommend avoiding screen light (blue light from TV, cell phone, computer, etc.) for at least 1 hour before bed. Blue light inhibits the production of melatonin from our pineal gland, and melatonin is essential for falling and staying asleep.
5. Finish Eating Your Last Meal 2 Hours Before Bed
Not eating two hours before bed helps our body digest our dinner completely, which promotes relaxation and restful sleep. When we eat right before bed, this can increase our energy and cause digestive upset, which keeps us awake.
6. Wake Up & Fall Asleep Around the Same Time
Waking up and falling asleep around the same times each night and morning ensures a healthy circadian rhythm, which allows our body to get used to a pattern of falling asleep and waking up.
If you have taken these steps and still experience trouble falling or staying asleep, I recommend seeing a Naturopathic Doctor for further support, as there may be other physiological factors involved.
1. Thomson, C.A., Morrow, K.L., Flatt, S.W., et. al. Relationship between sleep quality and quantity and weight loss in women participating in a weight-loss intervention trial. Obesity. (2012);20(7):1419-1425.
2. Spruyt, K., Molfese, D.L., Gozal, D. Sleep duration, sleep regularity, body weight, and metabolic homeostasis in school-aged children. Pediatrics. (2011);127(2).
3. Adamkova, V., Hubacek, J.A., Lanska, V., et. al. Association between duration of the sleep and body weight. Respiratory Physiology & Neurobiology. (2009);58(1):S27-S31.
4. National Sleep Foundation Recommends New Sleep Times. National Sleep Foundation. (2015). Accessed 5 January 2019. <https://www.sleepfoundation.org/press-release/national-sleep-foundation-recommends-new-sleep-times>.