Studies have shown that an average of 7.5 hours of sleep per night can help assist with weight loss. How? Our hormones. Ghrelin tells us when to eat and leptin tell us when to stop, so in short, more ghrelin plus less leptin equals weight gain. And this is exactly what happens when you are sleep deprived.
In addition, your metabolism slows down and you are more likely to reach for that sweet treat or extra latte for a quick pick-me-up. Susan Zafarlotfi, PhD, clinical director of the Institute for Sleep and Wake Disorders at Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey says “when you have sleep deprivation and are running on low energy, you automatically go for a bag of potato chips or other comfort food”. Time for some shut-eye, don’t you think?
Another benefit of adequate sleep is that you are more inclined to rise early and fit in a quick workout. Exercising first thing in the morning is fantastic for your metabolism and a great way to accelerate your body’s fat burning ability. Simply start with a 30-minute walk around the block.
What you can do
The best way to ensure you get an adequate night’s sleep is to focus on your nighttime routine. The key is to eat enough for dinner so you’re not hungry, but not too much so that you provide your body with extra energy and keep yourself awake. Start by avoiding starchy foods and added sugar, and fill your plate with nutrient dense foods – protein, non-starchy vegies and essential fats. Trial and error will work wonders here, as everything is relative.
After dinner, it is essential that you wind down and avoid stimuli from televisions, laptops and mobile phones. Studies have shown that this increases brain activity and may interfere with your natural circadian rhythm. The artificial light from these electronic devices also acts to suppress melatonin, the hormone that regulates our sleep and internal clock. If you absolutely must use your computer after dinner, download the application f.lux to change your screen from the blue, to the red spectrum. Blue light most strongly stimulates your body to stay awake, so it is best to be avoided. In addition, ensure your bedroom is dark and quiet and conducive to a good night’s sleep. This can be achieved via the use of heavy curtains or blinds, and if you are extra sensitive or a shift worker, with a sleep mask and ear plugs.
If you find it hard to switch off from your day, boil the kettle. A camomile tea, followed by a short breathing or meditation session should turn you into Captain Snooze in no time. If you have fuelled well during the day, yet you are find yourself peckish around 9 or 10pm, the answer is to go to bed. It is not hunger, it is fatigue and/or boredom. Eating will only give you energy and keep you awake, which is the exact opposite of what you are trying to achieve. For help with meditation, there are plenty of good apps you can download – two of my favourites are Omvana and Headspace.
But I’ve tried all that?!
If you’ve honestly implemented all of the above yet your sleep hasn’t improved, here are some other tips and tricks:
- Supplement with magnesium. In an ideal world we would get all of our nutrients from food, but it is just not that easy in this day and age. Gut health, farming practices, modern agriculture, soil leaching…there are just too many factors to mention. Choose a good quality practitioner brand with your Naturopath or Pharmacist and take 200mg before bed. Powders are most often the best.
- If you wake during the night more than once to go to the toilet, you are simply not efficiently absorbing the fluid you are consuming. Start by adding half a lemon and a pinch of Himalayan sea salt to your water bottle during the day.
- Try a sleep app. It will wake you at the time closest to your set alarm when you have completed your last 90 minute rapid eye movement (REM) cycle. The concept here is that you wake refreshed, as your alarm clock does not awake you during your deep restorative REM sleep. Another reason why 7.5 hours of sleep makes sense to me (5 cycles of 90 minutes). Two apps I have tried are Sleep Cycle and Sleep Time. Keep in mind it is based on movement, so this may not work if you share your bed with a wriggleworm.
- Consider your bedding. When was the last time your replaced your mattress? Coil spring mattresses should be replaced every ten years. Experiment with different levels of firmness, add memory foam and consider investing in latex – it bounces back to its original position as soon as the pressure is removed and therefore offers correct spinal support and minimises partner disturbance. What about your pillows? Try those that provide more or less support and log your results in a sleep journal until you find the best solution.
- It may be a worthwhile investment to speak with a sleep specialist. During my research I came across Genesis Sleep Care, but this is not something I have personally experienced. Perhaps someone in the blogosphere has had some success they would like to share?
Efficient sleep really is a significant factor in fat loss (not to mention training recovery for all you athletes out there!). What has worked for you?
Wood B, Rea MS, Plitnick B, Figueiro MG. (2013). Light level and duration of exposure determine the impact of self-luminous tablets on melatonin suppression. Applied Ergonomics, 44, 2, 237-240.
Greer SM, Goldstein AN, Walker MP. (2013). The impact of sleep deprivation on food desire in the human brain. Nature Communications, 4, 2259.
Shlisky JD, Hartman TJ, Kris-Etherton PM, Rogers CJ, Sharkey NA, Nickols-Richardson SM. (2012). Partial sleep deprivation and energy balance in adults: an emerging issue for consideration by dietetics practitioners. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 112, 11, 1785-97.