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Chapter 10 - Sweet Dreams: Sleep's Role in Your Fat Loss Journey

Sleeping for Weight Loss

Introduction

With the hustle and bustle of everyday life, one of the things many of us are constantly compromising on is sleep. However, a good night’s rest is just as important as engaging in physical activity and eating a proper diet, making it essential to better health. Sleep deprivation can increase your risk of several diseases and conditions, including things like dementia, heart disease, and stroke. One of the lesser known consequences of poor sleep is obesity. In fact, lack of sleep could be a major contributor to the obesity epidemic in the United States.

As of 1998, just 35 percent of people in the US were getting the recommended eight hours of sleep each night. By 2005, this percentage decreased to 26 percent. In parallel, obesity rates have been rising across the country (1). So, is there a correlation? The answer is yes, there certainly is a link between weight and sleep. We will discuss this relationship in this article to help understand how sleep can affect your fat loss journey.

The Science Behind Sleep and Weight

Many short- and long-term studies have evaluated the link between sleep and weight. One of the largest studies to date followed 68,000 middle-aged women in the US for a period of 16 years. The study found that participants that slept five or less hours nightly had a 15 percent increased risk of obesity versus those that slept seven hours each night (2).

Additional research, conducted with the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), demonstrated that obesity rates were increased in individuals that were sleeping less than seven hours each night (3). Not to mention, sleep deprivation was linked to deficits in memory, learning, recall as well as type 2 diabetes mellitus (T2DM), high blood pressure, and cardiovascular disease.

Likewise, it is clear from research that the quality and quantity of our night’s rest can directly impact our ability to lose weight or maintain a healthy weight. Let’s dive into the mechanisms underlying this phenomenon, particularly how sleep affects certain behaviors and weight gain.

How Lack of Sleep Influences Eating Behaviors

When we do not get enough sleep, how, when, and what we eat are impacted, contributing to weight gain. Sleep deprivation can do the following:
Increase hunger. Lack of sleep can directly affect your hormones, specifically those that regulate your hunger cues. One study evaluated these effects, finding that individuals with sleep deprivation had increased levels of ghrelin, an appetite-stimulating hormone, and decreased levels of leptin, a satiety-inducing hormone. As a result, lack of sleep was associated with higher appetite and hunger, specifically for carbohydrates and fat-rich foods.
Lead you to choose unhealthier diets. Lack of sleep can result in impaired decision making, in both the context of food and beyond. 
Give you more time to eat. This one is pretty straightforward. When you are awake for longer, there is more time for you to experience hunger cues and thus eat more food (1).

How Lack of Sleep Influences Physical Activity

In addition to affecting you eating behaviors, sleep deprivation can also contribute to your capacity to exercise and intrinsic motivation. Research shows that those that lack good sleep are not as active as those that get enough sleep. In fact, individuals with sleep disorders, such as insomnia and obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), are less likely to engage in physical activity throughout the day (4).
Why is this? Well, lack of sleep will likely make you more lethargic and tired throughout the day, impairing your ability to get a good workout in. As a result, those that don’t get enough sleep are more likely to spend time doing sedentary activities, like watching TV (1). Even if you are sleep deprived and still work out, lack of sleep can impact your performance during exercise. You may have inhibited abilities, be quicker to tire, and be at increased risk for injury (5).
How much sleep do I need?

Sleep requirements will vary from person to person, but they are primarily dictated by age. When it comes to adults, individuals ages 18 to 60 years should aim for at least seven hours of sleep each night. For those between the ages of 61 and 64 years of age, seven to nine hours is acceptable. Finally, those ages 65 and older can aim for between seven to eight hours each night. Children and adolescents will have different sleep requirements, likely more than adults (6).
Other factors may influence your sleep requirements outside of age. For example, the quality of your sleep matters just as much as the quantity of sleep. Additionally, things like previous sleep deprivation and pregnancy can change your needs surrounding sleep.

The Recommended Sleep Routine

Knowing the impact of sleep on your ability to lose weight, you may be hoping to maximize your nighttime’s rest. However, many of use struggle with getting our full eight hours in. “Sleep hygiene” is a term we use to describe habits that can improve your sleep. Here are some tips on sleep hygiene for maximizing the duration and quality of your sleep:

Wake up and go to sleep at the same time every day

Conclusion

In conclusion, the intricate relationship between sleep and weight management is an aspect of health that cannot be overlooked. As we've explored, insufficient sleep not only elevates the risk of obesity but also influences our eating behaviors and physical activity levels. The compelling evidence from various studies highlights the undeniable connection between inadequate sleep and increased appetite, poor dietary choices, and reduced motivation for physical activity. These factors collectively contribute to weight gain and an overall decline in health.

Understanding that sleep is a crucial pillar of health, alongside diet and exercise, is essential for anyone embarking on a weight loss journey or striving to maintain a healthy lifestyle. It's not just about the hours of sleep, but also the quality of rest we get each night. By adopting good sleep hygiene practices—such as maintaining a consistent sleep schedule, reducing exposure to electronics before bedtime, and fostering a conducive sleep environment—we can significantly improve our sleep quality.

As we navigate the demands of modern life, prioritizing sleep becomes more than just a choice; it’s a necessity for our physical and mental well-being. By ensuring adequate and quality sleep, we empower ourselves to make better food choices, engage more in physical activities, and thereby enhance our overall health. Remember, the journey to a healthier, slimmer you begins with a good night's sleep. So, let’s embrace the power of restful nights as a key component of our health and wellness routine.

References
https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/obesity-prevention-source/obesity-causes/sleep-and-obesity/#:~:text=A%20good%20night's%20sleep%20is,hours%20of%20sleep%20a%20night.
https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/obesity-prevention-source/obesity-causes/sleep-and-obesity/#references
https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16295214/
https://www.sleepfoundation.org/physical-activity/exercise-and-sleep#:~:text=Recent%20research%20also%20suggests%20insufficient,exercise%20have%20a%20bidirectional%20relationship.
https://www.sleepfoundation.org/physical-activity/athletic-performance-and-sleep
https://www.cdc.gov/sleep/about_sleep/how_much_sleep.html
https://www.sleepfoundation.org/sleep-hygiene

Author
David Bauder David J. Bauder, PA-C David Bauder, PA-C, is a certified physician assistant and the assistant medical director at Weight Loss and Vitality in Manassas and Alexandria, Virginia, Washington, DC; and Gaithersburg, MD. He enjoys helping patients optimize their physical and mental health to improve their overall well-being. He earned his physician assistant degree from the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio. Afterward, he gained admission into the reputable graduate program for physician assistant studies at the University of Nebraska Health Science Center in Omaha. David has over 26 years of experience working as a physician assistant. He’s practiced in podiatry, family medicine, emergency medicine, general surgery, urgent care, and functional medicine.

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