Looking to lose some extra weight? Go to bed.
Google “best way to lose weight” and most of the results are based on two things: diet and exercise. Eat more greens, take the stairs, and so on. All good advice, but new research suggests there’s more to it than that. If you feel like you’re doing all the right things but are still struggling to achieve your goals, you may not be getting enough sleep. The recent consensus among experts is that adequate rest is just as important to your health (and weight) as what you eat or how many crunches you can do.
Losing weight overnight might not be possible, but along with diet and exercise, sleep plays a key role in maintaining a healthy lifestyle. When we cut our sleeps short, we’re disrupting the natural weight management processes that occur when we’re sleeping.
Here are 5 of our bodies’ natural weight management processes affected by sleep deprivation:
1 & 2. Leptin & Ghrelin Imbalance
Sleep helps regulate your appetite, which is controlled by two hormones: leptin and ghrelin. Simply put, ghrelin tells you when you’re hungry and leptin tells you when you’re full. Both need to be under control to maintain a healthy weight, but when you’re sleep deprived this is next to impossible. Studies have shown that sleeping less than six hours a night increases ghrelin production and decreases leptin, stimulating feelings of hunger but leaving you unable to tell when you’ve eaten enough.
3. Cortisol Jumps
Sleep deprivation also disrupts your cortisol production. When you go too long without getting your ZZZ’s, cortisol levels spike, telling the rewards center of your brain that it’s junk food party time. Combined with the heightened ghrelin, you’re left with the impulse control of a 5-year-old, more likely to eat bigger portions of high-carb, high-fat snacks and meals.
4. Glucose Drops
One study found that going 24 hours without sleep reduces the amount of glucose going to the brain by 6%. Your body tries to replace that glucose in two ways – first, by looking for more in the form of that extra slice of cake, and second, by burning muscles that contain glucose. That’s right; when you’re sleep deprived, your body is far more likely to burn muscles and save long-term energy (also known as fat).
In another study published in the Annals of Medicine, a group of dieters were put on a strict diet and two progressively different sleep schedules. When their sleep was restricted to 5.5 hours a night, their fat loss was essentially cut in half from when they were allowed 8.5 hours a night, even though their calories remained the same. With less sleep, they also reported feeling hungrier and less satisfied after meals.
5. Insulin Spikes
When your body’s in sleep debt, it’s suffering from “metabolic grogginess,” a term coined by a group of researchers at the University of Chicago. They found that just four days of insufficient shuteye leads to a 30% drop in insulin sensitivity. Insulin, the body’s main anabolic hormone, is essential for absorbing blood sugar and either converting it into energy or storing it.
Is that bad? Kind of. When insulin resistance rises, your body pumps out more, which ends up being stored as fat. This can lead to diabetes, prediabetes, and a host of other health disorders.
If diet and exercise alone aren’t working for you, take a closer look at your sleep habits. The good news is, hitting the pillow a couple hours earlier than usual is way more inviting than doing another set of burpees.
Consider sleep an active player in your health and fitness program.
Here a a few ways you can sleep your way to a healthier weight:
- Shut it down. Say goodbye to all technology (phone, TV, internet) at least an hour before bedtime. The bright light is telling your brain that it’s time to be alert, so send it the opposite signal.
- Create a bedtime ritual. Take a warm bath, read, meditate; whatever helps you unwind and prep your body for rest.
- Skip the snooze. Trying to fall back asleep between alarms isn’t a good idea. It often disturbs your REM cycle, leaving you groggier than if you had gotten out of bed in the first place. Just set the alarm for a bit later.
- Stay on schedule. Try to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. This helps set your body’s internal clock and improves sleep quality. Your body will also get used to the consistency, making you less likely to toss and turn.
Create a restful environment. This usually means a cool, dark, quiet room. If you’re in need of a sleep environment upgrade it’s worth investing in blackout curtains, “white noise” machines, eye masks and ear plugs.
 Mann, Denise. “Sleep and Weight Gain.” WebMD. (accessed December 19, 2017).
 “Sleep and Appetite.” Tuck. (accessed December 20, 2017).
 Bornstein, Adam. “Why Sleep Is the No. 1 Most Important Thing for a Better Body.” Shape. (accessed December 20, 2017).
 “Insufficient Sleep, Diet and Obesity.” Annals of Internal Medicine. (accessed December 21, 2017).