Today I’m coming to you with some news that I know you’ll like. Which is a treat for me because usually I’m the bearer of bad news – telling you to eat less sugar, drink less alcohol, etc. Today I’m not telling you to do less of something enjoyable. I’m telling you to do more of something enjoyable.
I want you to get more sleep.
The old advice in the weight loss world was no pain no gain. Get up earlier or stay up later so that you could hit the gym.
That old advice jut doesn’t hold up anymore. There is an ever-growing body of research that shows how important adequate sleep is for a healthy weight. Or, to be more accurate, the research is showing that chronic sleep deprivation contributes to weight gain.
So many of us are chronically sleep deprived. We brag about being tired and wear being “busy” as a badge of honour. I believe this needs to stop.
Chronic sleep deprivation means getting less than 7-8 hours of good-quality sleep for at least a few days in a row. Note that there are a few important points in my last sentence. First: the amount of sleep, 7-8 hours. Second: that it takes only a few days in a row to be considered sleep deprived (not the weeks, months, years that I know many of you experience). Third: the quality of sleep is as important as the number of hours.
What affects quality of sleep? Two things that often are overlooked are alcohol and sleep apnea. Yes, it’s true that having a couple of drinks can help you fall asleep. But alcohol interferes with the natural brain patterns during sleep. The result is poor quality sleep. Want to wake up feeling refreshed? Skip the alcohol the night before.
Sleep apnea negatively impacts the quality of your sleep. Sleep apnea and weight have a vicious cycle. Being overweight increases sleep apnea and sleep apnea increases weight gain. I always look for any suspicion of sleep apnea when starting with a client because I know that if there is unaddressed sleep apnea, we can change the client’s eating all we want and we won’t see much change in weight.
How does inadequate (either not enough or poor quality) sleep cause weight gain? There are several ways that the research is finding:
- Opportunity to Eat. When you are awake longer, you have more time to eat. This is especially impactful if you get the evening munchies. Staying up later means more opportunity to munch away.
- Craving Pleasure. Sleep deprivation lowers the chemicals in our brain’s pleasure centre. Our brain sends us strong signals to raise these chemicals back up again. The foods that raise these chemicals? Highly processed high sugar, high fat, high salt foods – i.e. “junk food”.
- Slower Metabolism. There is evidence that being sleep deprived slows down our metabolism. So even if we were eating the same amount of food as if we were well-slept, we’d still get weight gain.
- Recently a study caught my eye. Now this involved only a small handful of people. So I’d call it preliminary – not enough evidence that I’d put a lot of trust in it yet. But it was interesting nevertheless. In this study they found that having only 4.5 hours of sleep for several nights in a row stimulated the same chemical pathway in the subjects’ brains as is stimulated when you smoke marijuana. Yes, being sleep deprived gave these study participants the munchies.
So what to do? Make getting 7 – 8 hours of sleep a priority. What can you let go of to make this happen? Perhaps it’s turning off that evening Netflix. Maybe it’s hiring a house cleaner or gardener so you have fewer chores. And, if you routinely get 7 – 8 hours of sleep but you still wake up feeling exhausted, skip the daily glass (or two) of wine or ask your doctor for a referral for sleep apnea screening.
*A Nutrition Game Changer (NGC) is a food or habit that has made a big impact on the nutritional health of clients I’ve worked with. And, in my life too. Some may call these nutrition hacks. But I'm not a fan of that phrase. I share one NGC each month.