"I have never taken any exercise except sleeping and resting."
Lose weight while you doze off on your couch. Sounds like a dream come true, doesn't it? The idea may sound ludicrous, but researchers have found that sleeping is related to weight loss. Although common weight loss tips include things like 'eat less' and 'exercise more', what people often forget is that sleeping is just as essential for the body. Adequate sleep helps in the retention of stamina and energy that serves as fuel to help you function all day. During sleep, the body performs a number of essential repair and maintenance functions. When we fail to provide the body with adequate sleep, it does not operate competently.
Ideally, seven to nine hours of sleep per night is important for mental well-being. A well-rested mind is also able to choose healthy lifestyle behavior, as compared to a mind that is foggy and confused due to sleep deprivation. Unfortunately, factors like long working hours, stress, and unhealthy eating habits contribute to sleep problems. An editorial published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal pointed to a study conducted in 2010, which found that research participants who slept for 5.5 hours, lost 55 percent less body fat, and 60 percent more of their lean body mass, than those who slept for longer. This, in turn, is linked to weight gain and binge eating. To understand how sleep is important to weight loss, let us look at the science behind it.
How Sleep Affects the Hormones
Ghrelin and Leptin
Have you ever wondered why is it that every time you are sleep-deprived, the first thing you want to do is reach for that bag of chips? This may be due to the ghrelin hormone. Also known as the 'go' hormone, ghrelin is produced in the stomach. It signals the body when it is hungry. When you are sleep-deprived, you have more ghrelin. This is the reason for the hunger pangs after the all-nighter.
The increased ghrelin in the body is often in sync with leptin resistance. Released from fat cells, leptin signals the body to eat less. Due to sleep deprivation, leptin is unable to produce its normal effects to stimulate weight loss. The effect that sleep has on these two key hormones that play an important role in stimulating and suppressing your appetite, impacts your weight loss goals. This is aptly demonstrated in a study conducted by Stanford University and the University of Wisconsin. For the study, doctors reported the hours that 1,000 volunteers slept each night. When their levels of ghrelin and leptin was measured, and their weight was charted, doctors found that those who slept for less than eight hours a night had lower levels of leptin and higher levels of ghrelin. These people also had a higher level of body fat.
How Sleep and Stress Affects Weight Loss
The growth hormone secreted by the pituitary tract interacts with fat cells, and forces them to break down and burn stored fats. The increased metabolism helps with fat loss. Apart from exercising, sleep is also very important for maximizing the fat-burning effect of the growth hormone. This is because, while sleeping, the pituitary gland secretes more growth hormones than during waking hours.
When we are stressed, the body releases a hormone known as cortisol. Secreted by the adrenal glands, cortisol helps regulate blood pressure and the body's ability to convert sugar into energy. Insufficient sleep, along with factors like over-working and chronic stress, can lead to excess cortisol in the body. Over time, the cortisol in the body can lead to increased appetite, high blood sugar, and cravings for harmful sweets. It can also lead to insulin resistance. Excessive eating due to overstimulated appetite can lead to increased fat retention.
How Important is Sleep for Rest and Recovery
To maintain a healthy weight, it is important to sleep well. With adequate sleep, you are well-rested and the body has time to heal. This enables you to increase your performance level and grow stronger.
Tips for Better Sleep to Lose Weight
- Avoid caffeine, especially in the afternoon and late evenings. This is because, caffeine will keep you in the lighter stages of sleep. This is associated with less or poor sleep.
- Do not eat too much before bedtime, as when and what you eat affects your sleep. Rich, spicy meals can cause sleep disruption. Instead, stick to light meals before retiring to bed.
- Turn off the TV. People who are glued to the idiot box for long hours at night, often complain of lack of sleep. This holds true for the computer and phone as well.
- Exercise your body for better sleep. If you cannot hit the gym, then doing some yoga, dance, or simply going for a long walk can help you sleep better.
- Avoid stress and take certain measures to reduce it. Meditating, reading a relaxing book, or sharing your concerns and thoughts with friends are some ways in which you can ease stress.
If you are unable to sleep well and are constantly gaining weight as a result, then try speaking to a sleep specialist. It is also important to understand that although it is significant, sleep is not the solution for everyone who is struggling to lose weight. Along with a good sleep, a balanced diet and regular exercise is essential for successful weight loss as well.