Here are four bet-you-didn’t-know ways that sleep can help you lose weight and seven tips to help you take advantage.
1. Sleep Makes You Less Hungry
Sleep is critical in controlling fat storage because of the role it plays in regulating hormones. Two hormones in particular rule the roost with appetite regulation: ghrelin and leptin. They’re the boss ladies of appetite regulation.
Ghrelin says, “I’m hungry,” and leptin says, “I’ve had enough.”
Ghrelin, secreted in the lining of the stomach, increases hunger; its levels are highest before a meal and lowest after we’ve eaten. The ideal scenario is the perfect balance between ghrelin and leptin—all achievable on the Paleo Chic plan.
Yup, that’s right, eating plenty of lean protein suppresses ghrelin and shuts off the hunger mechanism in the brain. And sleep deprivation increases ghrelin and decreases leptin, so a good night’s sleep is imperative when fighting the battle of the bulge.
Restricting sleep changes how the brain functions and can cause you to crave that chocolate chip cookie you would otherwise do without. The next time you have a craving, ask yourself how you slept last night!
2. Sleep Decreases Daytime Stress Levels
As you know now, the stress hormone cortisol is a guilty party in contributing to obesity. When our cortisol levels are high, we tend to pack on more fat at the expense of muscle tissue. Sleep plays a major role in cortisol production and our circadian rhythms.
Cortisol levels are highest in the morning, to help us get up and out of bed. Once we have breakfast after an overnight fast, the levels fall rapidly. (This is why you must eat breakfast every morning.) Skipping breakfast will raise your cortisol level and keep it elevated for hours, helping you pack on more body fat.
3. Sleep Increases the Body’s Ability to Burn Calories
Even if you’re following a calorie-restricted diet, you won’t make a dent in fat loss until you visit the sandman, because your body will burn fewer calories and pack on more fat no matter how much you limit your food intake. Your appetite will also spiral out of control, and as a result, you’ll eat more than your body needs.
Worse yet, insomnia is also a cause of insulin resistance, which helps store your food as fat. (See reasons 1 and 2, above.)
Eating lean protein and nuts controls the “I’m hungry” hormone ghrelin, whereas eating sugary snacks spikes it. Control your hunger and cravings with protein and fats and try to head to bed by ten o’clock to reset your hormones.
4. Sleep Increases Muscle Mass
Sleep loss interferes with the body’s ability to build muscle mass. Sleep is an anabolic agent be- cause it causes the pituitary gland in the brain to release growth hormone during intervals throughout the night, which stimulates growth and regeneration and supports the production of lean muscle mass.
Growth hormone levels are highest when we are young and growing; as we age, the levels drop naturally, and we produce much less (though women do produce more than men). Some people try to delay the effects of aging by injecting themselves with growth hormone, but eating clean foods, sprinting, and strength-building exercises are the best things you can do to produce the juice naturally.
So if you’re not producing enough growth hormone because you’re not getting enough sleep, you’ll lose muscle mass and burn fewer calories and fat throughout the day.
In a study with subjects who had been sleep deprived while on reduced calorie diets, one group slept five and a half hours per night; the other slept eight and a half hours per night. Both groups lost similar amounts of weight, but the group that got a good night’s rest lost 50 percent more fat than the sleep-deprived group.
If you want to reclaim your body and set yourself up for success, you’ll need to aim for at least seven and a half hours of sleep every night. This may require some lifestyle changes, but if you’re serious about slimming down, you need to make the connection between quality sleep and body fat percentages.
The number of hours you sleep each night should be consistent throughout the week. Don’t bother trying to make up for lost sleep on the weekends; that just isn’t enough time to reset your hormones.
How to Get a Good Night’s Sleep
- Sit down to breakfast within an hour of waking up and then eat at regular intervals throughout the day, since skipping meals elevates cortisol that can interfere with your nightly sleep.
- Start shutting down for the night (washing your face, brushing your teeth) by nine o’clock to facilitate the release of restorative hormones and insure a good night’s sleep.
- If you suffer from anxiety and insomnia at night, do ten minutes of deep-breathing exercises before bed. Lie on your back in bed, place your hands on your stomach, and focus on your breath until you feel your stomach rise and fall under your hands. Breathe in and out through your nose, and count to four with each inhalation and exhalation. Let go of all other thoughts and keep coming back to your breath.
- Avoid stimulants such as ephedra and caffeine. Some people need as much as twenty-four hours to clear 1 cup of morning caffeine from their systems. No caffeine should pass your lips after two in the afternoon if you have trouble sleeping!
- Limit workouts to sixty minutes (unless you are walking, which will lower your cortisol), and try to finish your workout at least four hours before bed. With strength and interval workouts, at the sixty-minute mark, your testosterone levels start to decline and cortisol levels rise—not a good combo for sleeping.
Meditate. The best part about having a brain is that you can retrain it and create positive changes within yourself. Meditation is one of my favorite ways to rewire, because it promotes a sense of calm and relaxation all day long—even if you do it the night before. The amygdala, an almond- shaped mass of nerve cells deep within the brain, regulates our emotions and is the greatest beneficiary of meditation.
If you’re feeling anxious, struggling with insomnia, or just craving some deeply restorative and relaxing sleep, practice some guided imagery and form scenarios in your head about places that relax you and watch the magic unfold after a few short days.
- Have an orgasm, either wit your partner or by yourself. This will release tension and prompt the flow of feel-good hormones that calm the brain and nourish the nervous system.
Each day presents a new opportunity for us to strive for a good night’s sleep. You’ll be amazed how your body composition changes once you pair sleep with good nutrition and smart exercise.