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Could poor sleeping habits be sabotaging your weight loss goals?

There’s more to maintaining a healthy weight than what you eat, or how much you exercise. In fact, how much sleep you get can be part of the equation.

Many studies have begun to link sleep and weight, and while more research is needed, here’s what we know so far:  

Increased hunger

Research tells us that people who are sleep-deprived are more likely to have an increased appetite, than those getting plenty of rest. Why? Sleep affects two ‘hunger hormones’ – ghrelin and leptin. Ghrelin tells your brain it’s hungry, while leptin helps to regulate the body’s hunger. When you don’t get enough sleep, the body makes more ghrelin and less leptin. This throws out the balance and your appetite is likely to increase.   

Less active

Sleep deprivation makes you less active because your body hasn’t built up the energy stores it needs to keep you going – it’s flat out tired, so you’re more likely to couch potato the evening away. As we know, less activity can mean less calories burnt and more weight around the middle.

Sugar fix

Spending more time awake means there’s more time to munch, and snack unnecessarily (hello unwanted weight gain!). A Japanese study found that workers who slept less were more likely to eat out and snack than those who got more sleep. Also, we are more likely to crave sweets and energy dense foods when we’re sleepy, as our brain is looking for a quick source of energy.

Too much glucose

Not getting enough sleep can cause the pancreas to secrete more insulin to metabolise food. So, how can this affect weight gain? It’s causes the body’s cells to absorb too much glucose, which the body turns into fat.

So how much sleep do you really need?

You might think you’re doing okay being in bed for eight hours, but unless you’re getting 7-9 hours of continuous sleep, it’s not really ‘quality’ sleep. The difference is that continuous sleep allows your body to go through the full sleep cycle, which consists of two stages: Non-Rapid Eye Movement (NREM) and Rapid Eye Movement (REM). NREM sleep is important for tissue growth and repair and immunity.

REM sleep is linked with the brain’s memory, learning and development. Without sleep that cycles through these two stages, changes to the body’s hormones (including appetite hormones ghrelin and leptin) can affect your overall health and wellbeing.  

Our top tips for a better night’s sleep:

  • Keep it regular: try to go to sleep and wake up at the same time each day, and aim for 7-8 hours per night.
  • Preparation is key: don’t eat too close to bedtime (a 2-3 hour break from food before bed is ideal), stay hydrated and avoid stimulants like caffeine, alcohol and nicotine. Other good habits through the day are exercising, staying hydrated and don’t forget to give yourself screen-free time to wind down.
  • Create the right environment: use soft lighting and keep the bedroom quiet, cosy and free from electronic devices.