Could Sleep be the Linchpin to Finally Achieving Your Weight Loss Goals?
Being healthier is the top New Year’s resolution worldwide, but about 80% of people who set resolutions give up by February.
Could sleep be the linchpin to finally achieving your weight loss goals?
Photo credit: Funny Pictures on www.LeFunny.net
I struggled with insomnia for over 30 years and in that time, my health and weight bounced up and down drastically. In high school, I went on a three-month exchange to Quebec, where I did not speak French, and came home with 25 extra pounds.
From then on, I yo-yoed between 150 to 170 pounds with a couple of divorce-induced forays into the 140s, and a high of 183 at the beginning of the pandemic. During all this time, I tried one diet, supplement, detox, or app after another. I sometimes had success, only to yo-yo back and beyond where I started.
Then, in 2020, I finally cured my insomnia. Suddenly I had the energy to do whatever I wanted when I wanted.
But still, I didn’t lose weight.
I was stuck in a rut. I realized that even though I had all this energy from finally being able to sleep, I was still caught in my old patterns of behavior. I used to be so exhausted every day, all I could do was get through the day, plop on the couch, and watch TV for hours.
But then I found a great coach who made the nutrition plan easy and an accountability partner to keep me on track, and in just three months, I lost 25 pounds.
This is my new headshot. On the left 138 pounds, right 163 pounds.
Here’s what I learned on my journey.
Causation vs. Correlation
When it comes to weight gain or loss, sleep is correlated but not necessarily causal. Meaning many factors affect your weight that sleep can also affect however, sleep alone doesn’t directly affect your weight. Exercising, eating right, and increasing your metabolic rate all contribute to healthy weight loss.
But if you don’t get enough sleep, you are less likely to have the energy and motivation to exercise. Research shows that people with insomnia tend to lead more sedentary lives than people who sleep through the night. This becomes a cyclical problem – less exercise reduces sleep drive; less sleep reduces energy to exercise.
You’re also more likely to make poor food choices after a bad night of sleep. When the hormones leptin, ghrelin, and insulin aren’t properly regulated during sleep, you are more likely to crave carbohydrates and sugar.
If you’re tired, irritable, and lack energy, you have less patience, motivation, and the ability to think creatively. So, when it comes time to figure out what’s for dinner, you have a greater propensity to throw your hands in the air and order takeout. Likewise, you may lack the energy to put into cooking a healthy meal even if you know what you want to eat.
Your metabolism is affected by the food you eat, how much exercise you get, your age, genetics, and how much sleep you get each night. The easiest way to increase your metabolic rate is to eat healthily, exercise regularly, and get good sleep. When you don’t have this combination, your metabolic rate can slow and thus lead to difficulties in losing weight.
Willpower vs. Sleep Cycle
Many people want to work out in the morning, so they resolve to wake earlier to exercise and often run out of steam in only a few weeks. This is not necessarily due to a lack of willpower, but a disruption to your natural sleep pattern.
Your sleep cycle, when you naturally want to go to sleep and wake each day, is genetic. A small portion of the population is early risers, or “Lions” in the chronotype language, who naturally want to get up at 5 or 6 in the morning. For most people, somewhere between 6 and 8 is more natural.
This cycle can be adjusted but takes a definite, concerted effort, and a good and exciting reason to get out of bed earlier day after day. If exercise is a chore, you’ll fall off the wagon quickly because you’re fighting your genetic rhythm.
So go easy on yourself.
Find a time that fits into your natural day-to-day schedule or when you feel your best energy-wise which for most people is between 10 am and 2 pm.
Improve Sleep to Lose Weight by Practicing Good Sleep Hygiene Habits
Several habits can improve the quality of your sleep.
Keep a consistent sleep schedule. Your circadian rhythm is a 24-hour clock in which many processes occur. And it works, well, like clockwork. This cycle of processes works in best harmony when they occur around the same time every day. When you change your sleep schedule on weekends by staying up later and sleeping in, you disrupt this balanced cycle just as if you traveled to another time zone.
Keep your room cool and dark. You know it’s more difficult to sleep in the summer, that’s because your body temperature naturally drops overnight. The best temperature for sleeping is 15-19⁰C (63-67⁰F). Light and darkness are required to regulate melatonin production. The darker your room, the better your sleep.
Beware of what you consume emotionally. Difficult conversations, engaging documentaries, and politically rife social media posts can keep you from sleeping if you have difficulty shutting down at night. Keep your content, and conversations light and easy in the hours before bedtime.
Watch your food and beverage intake three hours before bed. Eating too close to bedtime can disrupt your sleep with indigestion and heartburn and can cause blood sugar to spike and plummet. Too many liquids before bed can have you getting up to go to the bathroom disrupting your sleep.
Keep alcohol and caffeine consumption to a minimum. Although alcohol can put you to sleep at the beginning of the night, it reduces deep sleep making your sleep lighter and more easily disrupted later in the night. Caffeine on the other hand is a stimulant meant to wake you up and it can take up to 12 hours to metabolize. The older you get, the harder it is and the longer it takes. Reduce or eliminate caffeine in the afternoon to help you sleep better.
If You Can’t Sleep, Seek Help
There was a meme circulating a while ago that said, “Being an adult is all about being tired, telling people how tired you are, and listening to other adults tell you how tired they are.”
Our society today wears tiredness like a badge of honor or a right of passage.
This doesn’t have to be the case and shouldn’t be considered normal.
Experts have diagnosed over 80 different sleep disorders and it’s estimated that as many as 41.7% of the population has a sleep disorder of some kind. The main disorders are:
Insomnia (30-35% of people) – taking an hour or more to go to sleep, or back to sleep after waking during the night.
Sleep apnea (5-10% of people) – stopping breathing for 10 seconds or more multiple times during the night.
Restless leg syndrome (7-10% of people) – a pain sensation felt in the legs that is alleviated by movement and gets worse with fatigue.
Hypersomnia/Narcolepsy (less than 4% of people) – being unable to stay awake during the day.
Parasomnia (less than 1% of people) – acting in unusual ways while falling asleep or sleeping, such as sleepwalking or talking.
If you think you might have a sleep disorder, please seek help.
I spent more than 30 years struggling with my sleep. Finally sleeping through the night consistently has transformed my life in many ways, weight loss is just the most visible.
I am a sleep coach and consultant who helps career-driven professionals and teams sleep better to enhance productivity and well-being. Book your free sleep behaviour assessment today to find out how I can help you reach your goals.