Sleep and Weight Loss

Mary Kate Gowdy, AADP, CHHC, RMTP

It is scientifically proven that those that get a balanced, high quality sleep tend to weigh less, are less stressed and are much happier.  So, if you have been trying to lose weight and haven’t seen results … maybe you should look at your sleep patterns.

We all should be getting our 7 – 9 hours of sleep every night. Lack of sleep leads to obesity because of an increase in ghrelin, a hormone in our body that tells us when we’re hungry, and a decrease in leptin, the hormone in our body that tells us when we’re full. Thus, we remain hungry all the time, will overeat and have cravings for sugar and carbs. People that sleep less than six hours are more likely to easily gain weight than those that sleep seven to nine hours. Blood sugar levels rise to that of pre-diabetes after only a few nights of not enough sleep. Our energy levels will also suffer because muscles repair and regenerate energy supplies during deep sleep. 

Here are some helpful hints to a good nights sleep.

How Should we Sleep:

  1. We should be comfortable! A too soft or too firm mattress, an uncomfortable pillow, or an older, worn-out bed can all impede on a good night’s sleep. Check your mattress for signs of wear at least twice a year, and consider new pillows.
  2. Have a quiet, peaceful place to sleep. If your bedroom is noisy, consider a “white noise” generator, an inexpensive but effective device for making soothing sounds to mask the less peaceful ones. Try not to watch TV while trying to fall asleep, if you absolutely “must”, make sure the TV is on a timer so it does not continue to wake you all night long.
  3. Learn how to quiet the mind. If you can’t sleep because of an overactive mind – thoughts whirling through your head, try breathing techniques, stretching before you go to bed, meditations, writing your “worries” down before you lay down, using aromatherapy whether it be oils or herb pillows, etc. This can help you put aside the thoughts that are keeping you awake just for the night. The mind is a very powerful thing and if we don’t learn to master it … it will master us. Right now it is time to sleep, you will get back to your responsibilities tomorrow.
  4. Refrain from alcohol, caffeine, and excessive amounts of water a couple hours before bed. If you are constantly getting up to urinate (Nocturia) and then are not able to get back to sleep … eliminate caffeine and alcohol, especially before bedtime – both can increase night time urination and increase sleep disturbances. Refrain from drinking a lot of water right before bed. You should not be drinking caffeine anytime after 2:00pm. Caffeine is psychoactive in the body for 4-5 hours and will completely leave the body within 8 hours.  That means if you plan to go to sleep at 10 p.m. it would still be safe to finish your intake of coffee around 2 p.m. But, it is best to keep caffeine intake to the morning.
  5. Set a Routine. Our brains love rituals and routines. Find out what works best for your body and mind before bedtime. Whether it is hot tea, a bath (try with salts or essential oils. If you like hot baths, make sure to give your body an hour to slowly, naturally cool down from the day before sleep), reading (avoid conflict, intense, or disturbing reads – if adrenaline or coritsol begin to flow you’ll be awake for hours), meditation, relaxing music, writing of any kind or journaling, setting out your clothes for the next day, make a list of the next day’s chores and then let it be, etc. If you do this nightly your brain will begin to associate these activities as bedtime. Try to go to bed around the same time daily and if you can include the weekends – this regulates the body to sleep better. 
  6. Leave exercise for the morning/afternoon. Many people don’t get enough physical movement during the day which leads to not sleeping at night … they just aren’t tired. But, others exercise later at night. This keeps the body and mind in motion for hours. Exercise elevates heart rate and causes mental stimulation as well as other psychological effects. Definitely get your 30min (at least) of daily exercise … but don’t do it within 3 hours of bedtime. 
  7. Be aware of your partners sleep patterns. Maybe your sleeping problem is actually THEIR sleeping problem. Their snoring, moving, late night trips to the bathroom, nightmares, etc. It can be healed. Try your best to stay on the same routine if you can. If not, make sure both are following good sleep hygiene. 
  8. Keep your bedroom DARK. Our sleep cycles are directly tied to light. If we have the glow of the TV, phone, lights, no curtains or shades, etc … this will mess with our sleep. What may surprise you is that help for insomnia starts first thing in the morning. If you can, try to enjoy 15 minutes of bright morning sunshine to signal your brain to wake up, produce feel good hormones, and turn down sleep promoting melatonin. In the evening, dim the lights so your brain knows it is time to release melatonin in preparation for sleep. Wearing an eye mask at night will also help. But, our bodies replenish its melatonin levels while we sleep. So, if we want to be able to sleep well in nights to come, make sure to sleep in the dark. 
  9. Keep your sleeping area clean of clutter. A chaotic room with clothes, boxes, and piles of things everywhere is not conducive to falling asleep. All the clutter could actually be the primary distraction for your inability to sleep. Even if you are use to it, our minds are not good at feeling relaxed in areas of clutter. Our minds feel anxious, stressed, and actually associate clutter with disease. Make your bedroom your peace center, your sanctuary. Try not to work in your bedroom especially on your bed. Your brain should associate your bed with sleep, relaxation, and intimacy only. 
  10. Don’t go to bed hungry, but don’t go to bed full. Both are distracting. You should eat a good, healthy dinner no less than three hours before you go to bed. Your body needs time to digest before you lay down. If you are someone who needs a snack between dinner and bed just try to avoid food that is difficult to digest like cheese, sugar, anything highly processed or white. Try foods rich in tryptophan – they promote calm and sleepiness (chicken, tuna, turkey, cooked spinach, nuts, beans (hummus), seeds).
  11. Naps are okay! When you feel like you need to sleep – you do. You are tired. If you have the time, take a little nap (about 20-60min) instead of a cup of coffee. Naps are good for you J If you are not a napper – close your eyes and give yourself 10-20 minutes of meditation/rest time. This slows down your brain waves and helps you rejuvenate. Even just 5 minutes of eyes closed and deep breathing can work wonders.