IF you’re doing everything you can to lose weight but are still failing, you may want to spend more time in bed.
Sleep is crucial for weight management, and a lack of it can lead you to pile on the pounds, research shows.
Sleep deprivation alters the brain’s “hunger hormones”, impacts food choices, and how the body metabolises calories.
Therefore, although “calories in, calories out” is the basis of weight loss, the ability to achieve this can be thrown off if you are tired.
There is significant evidence that inadequate sleep is contributing to obesity.
But getting enough shut-eye is rarely part of people’s weight loss plan.
And Sleep Expert James Wilson, AKA The Sleep Geek, said: “One of the overlooked impacts of poor sleep is how it impacts on our ability to eat healthily.”
Here are six ways a bad night’s sleep can impact your weight without you even knowing:
1. Disrupts "hunger hormones"
James told the Sun: “Firstly, when we sleep poorly it affects the levels of the two hormones which are most important to hunger, it increases levels of ghrelin, which stimulates our appetite and reduces levels of leptin which regulates it.
“In basic terms, poor sleep makes us feel hungrier quicker and takes us longer to feel full.”
Ghrelin is a hormone released after the brain signals the stomach is empty, while leptin is released from fat cells to suppress hunger – and tell the brain it's full.
Studies have shown that when you don't get enough shut-eye, the body makes more ghrelin and less leptin – leaving you more hungry.
One study of 12 men led by University of Chicago showed two days of sleep deprivation drove leptin levels in the blood down by 18 per cent, while increasing ghrelin by 28 per cent.
The men reported a 24 per cent increase in their hunger and appetite compared to when they were given two restful nights.
This study didn’t measure how much participants ate. But plenty of studies have linked the two.
2. More time to eat
The less you are asleep, the more you are awake. This gives more of an opportunity to eat.
James said: “Poor sleep often gives us more time to eat; if we are not getting enough sleep we have more time to fill and often we use food to do this.
“Some research showed that sleep deprived people surrounded by snacks would snack more, particularly in the hours they should be asleep.”
In the modern day world, people are awake for up to 17 hours at a time – 7am till 12pm.
It leaves a huge window for being awake and eating.
It’s why, if you can’t find more time to sleep, some nutritionists and weight loss experts suggest cutting down your eating hours to a smaller window, for example noon till 8pm.
3. Causes you to reach for takeaways
If you have a weird sleeping pattern, chances are your eating schedule is also off-whack.
James said: “Struggling with our sleep leads to more chaotic eating times, and a bigger likelihood to eat out, or eat ready meals.
“Basically we are less bothered about eating healthy because we are just so shattered!”
People may also be drawn to ordering takeaways as an easy option for dinner, rather than putting the effort into a home-cooked meal from scratch.
4. Makes you eat more calories
Multiple studies have shown that the less sleep you get, the more calorie-dense food you choose to eat.
James said: “When we are fed up, starving and shattered we crave quick sources of energy, such as sugar and junk food.”
One study in Chicago found that men ate more food at a buffet after four consecutive night’s of rough sleep compared with when they were rested.
They consumed around 340 calories more, mostly because they ate more snacks and carbohydrate-rich food.
Researchers from King’s College London also found that adults consumed an additional 385 calories – the equivalent of one and a half Mars Bars – on days after they were deprived of kip by combining the results of 11 previous studies.
5. Increases desire for food
Not having enough sleep literally changes the way our brain perceives food, studies have shown.
Foods, especially those high in calories, are more appetising because we subconsciously know they will boost our energy.
It suggests that if you are on a weight loss drive but failing to get enough sleep, you’ll be battling your own mind.
A German study showed the lengths sleepy people would go to for calorific snacks using 32 healthy men.
After a normal dinner and either a restful or restless night’s sleep, the men were given three Euros to spend on snacks and told to bid the maximum amount they were willing to spend on each item.
When sleep deprived. participants were willing to pay extra for the junk food items – which they were allowed to eat afterwards – suggesting a stronger desire.
MRI brain scans also showed more activity in two parts of the brain – the amygdala and hypothalamus – which are related to appetite and comfort eating.
6. Fat storage more likely
Scientists have warned that not getting enough sleep changes how the body deals with food, which could then lead to weight gain.
One study showed that men who ate a large bowl of chilli mac and cheese after four nights of bad sleep reacted differently to the food than those who were well-rested.
Researchers at Pennsylvania State University said blood tests showed lipids (fats) from foods were cleared faster, suggesting they were being stored almost instantly.
The process did not spring back to its normal rate even after the men were given a long night’s sleep.
Experts also say that how well we sleep affects metabolism, particularly how we break down sugar.
When food is eaten, our bodies release insulin, a hormone that helps to process sugar (glucose) in our blood and use it as energy.
But sleep loss can impair our bodies' response to insulin, Emma Sweeney and Ian Walshe – lecturers in health and exercise at Nottingham Trent and Northumbria University – said.
Writing in the Conversation they said: “Our own research has shown that a single night of sleep restriction (only four hours’ sleep) is enough to impair the insulin response to glucose intake in healthy young men.
“Given that sleep-deprived people already tend to choose foods high in glucose due to increased appetite and reward-seeking behaviour, the impaired ability to process glucose can make things worse.
“An excess of glucose (both from increased intake and a reduced ability to uptake into the tissues) could be converted to fatty acids and stored as fat.
“Collectively, this can accumulate over the long term, leading to weight gain.”
8 ways to get a better night’s kip
Speaking to The Sun, nutrition expert Kim Plaza, working with BioKult, reveals her top tips to ensure you get the best sleep possible:
- Get into a routine
"Keeping to a regular routine during the day where possible may help us regulate our sleep hormones more effectively."
"This includes waking up within the same 90 minute window each day. Our sleep hormones rely on a finely balanced circadian rhythm, which is an internal process that regulates our sleep-wake cycle and is dictated largely by our exposure to daylight."
2. Make meal plans
Kim said that eating meals at the same time each day ensures we are keeping our appetite hormones stable.
"Try sticking to a regular eating pattern of three main meals, rather than grazing throughout the day," she suggests.
"It will allow our bodies a chance to control blood sugar and keep energy levels balanced."
Stress hormones hinder the effect of positive feelings and could see hormones such as melatonin, which is required for relaxation and sleep, being wiped out.
Kim said: "Getting a good dose of those exercise derived endorphins could tip the balance in favour of promoting good sleep."
4. Chill out
Kim said it's important to reduce stress where possible, whether it’s practising mindful meditation, listening to music or breathing exercises.
"These activities may put our bodies in a state of rest, known more specifically as the parasympathetic nervous system," she adds.
"It brings our heart rate and blood pressure down and it might allow us to feel more in control and able to more easily cope in stressful situations."
5. Cut coffee
Kim said if you want to sleep better then you should avoid caffeinated food and drinks such as chocolate, alcohol, coffee, tea and energy drinks.
"Avoiding food that is high in simple carbohydrates and refined sugars may also aid our sleeping habits," she said.
6. Check vitamins and minerals
"Foods high in fibre may be particularly good at supporting our sleep, especially those known as prebiotics", said Kim.
Foods that fall into this group include leeks, asparagus, and slightly green bananas.
Studies have previously shown that people with better sleep quality have higher levels of vitamin B and magnesium.
7. Pick proteins
Kim said: "Low protein intake is associated with poor quality sleep, whilst too much protein is associated with difficulty maintaining sleep."
She recommended proteins that contai tryptophan, which is needed to make melatonin (a sleep hormone) such as fish, turkey, eggs, pumpkin and sesame seeds and chicken.
8. Look after your gut
Kim said that if we look after our gut health then it could help our bodies produce more sleep-promoting hormones such as serotonin – which is then turned into melatonin.
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