Do you struggle to get a good night’s sleep? Losing sleep affects more than just your energy levels and ability to concentrate – over the long term, insufficient sleep could make it more likely that you’ll gain fat, all while losing muscle mass.
Sleep has a huge effect on a wide range of biological systems. When you sleep, your body’s muscles rest and recover, important hormones for energy and concentration are produced and essential parts of your brain prepare for the day.
After a great night’s sleep, you’ll feel rested and recharged. After a bad night’s sleep, it’s far from uncommon for both your brain and your body to feel fatigued and slow, setting you up for an unproductive, unhealthy day.
If you’d like to lose weight, one of the best ways to improve your body is to improve the quality of your sleep. Read on to learn more about how sleep plays an important role in your body composition, weight and overall health.
Sleep and hunger
Have you ever felt hungry after a bad night’s sleep? When your brain becomes tired, it’s far easier to binge on sugary, fatty foods that are dense in calories. The reasons for this are numerous:
- When you don’t sleep enough, your body’s ability to produce leptin – a vital hormone that signals to your brain that you’re full – is diminished, making it easier to binge eat a greater amount of food than you really need.
- At the same time, lack of sleep increases the amount of ghrelin – another key hormone that controls your appetite, making it easier for you to feel hungry and want to eat satisfying foods.
Given that tiredness is an uncomfortable feeling, you’re more likely to choose foods that have simple, satisfying tastes. After a few hours of sleep, most people will choose to eat a chocolate bar or fatty meal instead of a lighter, lower-calorie option.
Sleep and stress hormones
Then there’s cortisol. Cortisol is a stress hormone – technically, an adrenal hormone – that has an enormous effect on many of your body’s processes, from metabolism to blood pressure.
The less sleep you get, the more your body ramps up its production of cortisol. After a bad night’s sleep – or, in the worst case, after a night with no sleep at all – the level of cortisol your body produces is significantly higher than normal.
Excess cortisol can result in higher blood pressure, reduced thyroid function and an incredible number of other negative effects. When you sleep, your cortisol level goes down – for most people, it reaches its lowest level at around 4 in the morning.
Cortisol also affects your body’s ability to metabolise macronutrients like protein or carbohydrates. When you don’t get enough sleep, your body reverts to storing food as fat due to the presence of excess cortisol.
This means that eating a meal – even a relatively healthy one with a good mix of fats, proteins and carbohydrates – results in most of the nutritional contents of the meal going to your waistline, rather than to your body’s muscles.
Once every now and then, the effect of raised cortisol levels on your body isn’t that big of a deal. However, over the long term, lack of sleep can result in serious weight gain that dramatically changes the way you look and feel.
Lack of sleep and exercise
Another factor that compounds the problem is energy. When you don’t get enough sleep, you inevitably feel tired the next day. Short-term solutions like caffeine make this problem less severe, but they don’t solve it entirely.
When you’re tired and fatigued, visiting the gym or going for a run are usually the last things on your mind. In this way, a bad night’s sleep has more than a physical effect on you – it also has a serious psychological effect on your motivation.
Instead of exercising at the gym, you spend time at home due to your lower-than-normal level of energy. Instead of walking from one place to another, you drive to avoid having to expend the limited amount of energy you have for the day.
Tiredness also makes it more difficult to eat healthy foods. When you only have a limited amount of energy, it’s far easier to opt for fast food or another calorically dense meal than to choose a salad or prepare something healthy at home.
This isn’t just speculation – it’s real science. A University of Chicago study has found that dieters who slept well burned a greater amount of fat than their peers who did not get enough sleep over the course of a diet and exercise programme.
Interestingly, the sleep deprived participants did lose weight, and close to the same amount of weight. However, participants that didn’t get enough sleep primarily lost muscle mass as opposed to fat, resulting in even worse body composition.
If you’d like to lose weight, start by fixing your sleep
More than anything else, losing weight is about consistency. Dieting for a day or two will result in your body burning a slightly higher amount of calories than you take in on a daily basis, but the effect on your waistline won’t be significant.
Over a period of months, however, consistent dieting and exercise can have a great effect on how you look and feel. The key, as with many things in life, is being totally consistent and maintaining a diet and exercise routine over several months.
Treat sleep the same way. Instead of sleeping on an inconsistent schedule, set up a consistent sleep routine. Get into bed at the same time every night and wake up at the same time every morning, just like you follow a consistent diet plan.
With the right amount of sleep – 7 – 9 hours is recommended for adults, combined with a healthy diet and exercise, you will begin to notice serious positive changes over time. Not only could you lose weight – you’ll also feel more energetic and have better focus and concentration.
From mental agility to physical health, sleep is essential for health. If you’d like to lose weight and improve the way you look, don’t forget to make sure you’re getting enough deep, healthy sleep every night of the week.