We’ve all heard it, “sleep is for the weak” but when it comes to weight loss it could be the missing factor to finally shred off those extra body fats that seem to cling to your body for dear life. If you’re having trouble losing weight despite your great efforts both in the kitchen and in the gym, maybe you should just sleep it off. Really, just sleep it off! It turns out that getting enough sleep is just as important as having a nutritionally-balanced diet and exercise for good health. Researchers at the University of Chicago found that well-rested individuals who are reducing their diets lost more fat—56% of their weight loss, than those who are not getting enough sleep.
The importance of having a good night sleep goes way beyond allowing your body to rest or banishing those pesky under-eye circles. Sleep improves your memory. Remember those times you managed to pull an all-nighter, priding yourself that you’re one hell of a buzz-beater only to pay the price when you experience an untimely mental block? Maybe you shouldn’t have gone too hard on yourself after all. According to the Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School, various sleep stages are involved in consolidation, the process by which memory becomes stable. The point is: if you are trying to learn something new—whether it’s speaking French or mastering a new tennis swing, chances are you’ll perform better after sleeping.
However, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than one third of the adult population in the US is not getting the recommended seven to eight hours of sleep a day. Lack of sleep is linked to increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, depression, and weight gain—yikes!
How can sleep help you lose weight when you burn way more calories during your waking hours than when you are sleeping?
Leptin and Ghrelin
Studies published in The Journal of the American Medical Association suggest that lack of sleep may increase hunger and affect the body’s metabolism. The levels of several hormones in the human body are affected by sleep. Two important hormones that come into play in stimulating and suppressing your appetite are leptin and grhelin. Leptin is a hormone produced by your body’s fat cells and is responsible for suppressing hunger. Ghrelin, on the other hand, is a hormone produced in your stomach and stimulates your appetite.
Not getting your daily dose of quality sleep lowers the levels of leptin in your blood and heightens the levels of ghrelin. As a result, you tend to eat more—and let’s face it, what we choose to eat when we’re too tired to function is whatever is available. You may reach for a bag of potato chips or even buy takeaways on your way home and we all know these kinds of food aren’t your weight loss buddies.
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Cortisol has become a buzzword when it comes to stress, and yes, belly fat. While cortisol seems to be the “bad” guy, it actually has its purpose and place. Cortisol is a hormone that helps our bodies respond to stress appropriately so that we don’t get sick. It also plays an important role in proper glucose metabolism, blood pressure regulation, and blood sugar maintenance.
Normally, cortisol is present in the body at higher levels in the morning. It’s at bedtime you don’t want your cortisol levels to be high as it heightens alertness and we all know what we do when we’re alive, awake, alert, and enthusiastic—do fun activities that make us happy, and by that I mean eat. Chronic sleep deprivation heightens evening cortisol levels and further elevation increases the likelihood of developing diabetes and wait for it, obesity.
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From a couch potato a gym bunny: You may have gone past the “baby steps” adjustment period and now pumping iron for that ripped body you have always wanted, but there’s this one problem: you’re not losing weight. While it’s true that permanent weight loss can be dragging, not seeing even the littlest move on the scale is truly demotivating. Weight loss is both a physical and mental battle. Doing tiresome workouts every day is not an easy task, not to mention counting calories. It can make you lose your mind, really. You still do it anyway, reminding yourself to keep your head in the game. But, even the greatest warriors need rest.
Sleep can affect your performance. According to a small study conducted by the Stanford University Sleep Disorders Clinic and Research Laboratory, athletes who slept at least 10 hours a night for 8 weeks saw marked improvements in performance. They had faster sprints, less daytime fatigue, more stamina, lower heart rate, and improved overall workout. Indeed, getting enough shuteye every night will allow your body to recover and grow stronger.
The bottom line is, sleep is extremely important to achieve your fitness and health goals! If you are reading this late at night, what are you waiting for? Jump onto your bed and get some well-deserved sleep!
Leanne Thompson is an author and a blogger who has contributed to some of the most well-known Health, Fitness and Nutrition blogs. She has struggled with her weight in her teenage years, which has driven her to undertake a Bachelors of Nutrition degree in the renowned Iowa State University, mostly to study the needs of a human body and how to make the most out of her life. She has made it her life goal to spread awareness about the importance of healthy weight loss and the well-being of people she has contact with.