The Surprising Link Between Sleep and Weight Gain / Loss
Research has shown that there is a link between sleep and weight, and it all has to do with hormones that regulate hunger and appetite. When we're sleep deprived, our bodies produce more ghrelin, which stimulates our appetite, and less leptin, which suppresses it. So basically, if you're not getting enough zzz's at night, you might find yourself reaching for them during the day... in the form of pizzza (sorry).
But the link between sleep and weight gain isn't just a one-way street. Being overweight or obese can also negatively impact sleep quality, particularly if you're carrying excess weight around your midsection. This can increase the risk of sleep apnea, a condition where your airway becomes partially or fully blocked during sleep, leading to disrupted sleep and excessive daytime fatigue.
Talk about a vicious cycle!
So, how can I break the cycle and get more sleep to improve my weight goals?
Here are a few tips:
- Establish a consistent sleep schedule. Going to bed and waking up at the same time every day can do wonders for your sleep quality. Plus, it'll make your coworkers think you have your life together. (But little do they know what a sheet show it actually is.)
- Create a sleep-friendly environment. A dark, cool, and quiet bedroom is essential for getting a good night's rest. Invest in a temperature-regulating mattress / sheets / pillows (hint, hint), and consider using a white noise machine or eye mask to block out distractions.
- Limit caffeine and alcohol consumption. This is so important, but our dopamine-addicted modern world demands we consume copious amounts of both to get us through our waking nightmare of a society. Wait, what? Back to the article: caffeine is a stimulant, so it's no surprise that it can disrupt your sleep. Alcohol may make you feel drowsy, but it can also interfere with your sleep cycle (ever wake up in the middle of the night after a bender, or feel groggy the next day?). So, try to cut back on both.
- Dopamine baseline reset. High spikes in dopamine and lower baselines can interfere with your sleep schedule, so consider these some helpful ways to "reset" that baseline (takes about 30 days). Practice an "intermittent schedule" of reward consumption – that is, randomize your usual treats and rewards. Have caffeine some days, but not others (and not on a set schedule or same time of day). Drink one weekend, but not the next... and maybe not the next after that. It's important to let your body and mind know that these rewards don't always come at the same time, or not at all – if you don't do this occasionally, you may find you have to start consuming more and more of a substance to enjoy it as much. Additionally, don't "dopamine stack" - i.e., don't do multiple fun things at once (sorry). Don't listen to music while you work out; don't use your phone while you're speaking with a friend; don't watch YouTube while you eat. Combining dopamine-producing activices is very human, but it's also a way to seriously spike your dopamine levels, which lowers your baseline everyday dopamine (and thus your daily motivation for hard work).
- Get regular exercise. Physical activity has been shown to dramatically improve sleep quality, and it can also help with weight management. So, hit the gym or find another vigorous activity you enjoy, and try to consistently spend at least 30 minutes exercising at least 3-5 days per week.
- Manage stress. Stress and anxiety can keep you up at night thanks to cortisol, the stress hormone, so it's important to find ways to relax before bed. This could include activities such as reading, listening to soothing music, or practicing deep breathing or meditation.
- Pay attention to your diet. A healthy, well-balanced diet can not only help with weight management, but it can also improve sleep quality. Choose foods that are rich in nutrients and low in added sugars and unhealthy fats, and try to avoid eating large meals close to bedtime. Bonus points if you can resist the temptation to inhale a bag of chips while binge-watching Netflix in bed. (And drink a ton of water throughout the day – like a comical amount.)
In conclusion, the link between sleep and weight is clear. Getting enough sleep is an important factor in maintaining a healthy weight and preventing weight gain, while being overweight or obese can impact sleep quality. So, take the steps necessary to prioritize sleep and make lifestyle changes such as exercising regularly and eating a healthy diet. Remember – you are the only variable you can control. As you change, so does the world around you.