Skipping sleep impairs your brain function across the board. It slows your ability to process information and problem solve, kills your creativity, and catapults your stress levels and emotional reactivity. Sleep deprivation also has a significant impact on your health. If you are trying to lose body fat, fixing your sleep situation should be at the top of your list. Instead of undermining yourself by burning the candle at both ends, set yourself up for success once you start dieting and exercising.
A fascinating study from the University of Chicago found that sleep-deprived dieters who averaged 5 hours of sleep nightly for two weeks lost significantly less body fat than a group that clocked in with 8.5 hours a night. Although both groups lost roughly the same amount of body weight (3 kg), the “normal” sleep group lost significantly more body fat. The “short” sleep group had most of their weight loss come from muscle.
Lack of sleep decreased the fraction of weight loss as body fat by an incredible 55 percent! “If your goal is to lose fat, skipping sleep is like poking sticks in your bicycle wheels,” said study director Plamen Penev, assistant professor of medicine at the University of Chicago.
Penev continued, saying:
“The message for people trying to lose weight is clear, for the first time, we have evidence that the amount of sleep makes a big difference in the results of dietary interventions. One should not ignore the way they sleep when going on a diet. Obtaining adequate sleep may enhance the beneficial effects of a diet. Not getting enough sleep could defeat the desired effects.”
Poor Sleep Changes Your Fat Cells
When your body is sleep-deprived, it suffers from “metabolic grogginess.” The term was coined by the same University of Chicago researchers who analyzed what happened after just four days of poor sleep—something that commonly happens during a busy week.
One late night at work leads to two late nights at home, and next thing you know, you’re in sleep debt. Within just four days of sleep deprivation, your body’s ability to properly use insulin (the master storage hormone) becomes completely disrupted. In fact, the University of Chicago researchers found that insulin sensitivity dropped by more than 30 percent.
Sleep deprivation is linked to hormone changes that affect the way you eat. Specifically, when you’re sleep deprived there is an increase in the hormone ghrelin, which causes you to experience increased appetite, and a decrease in the hormone leptin, which is the hormone that promotes satiety. This means you’re likely to eat more because you’re experiencing increased hunger and that increased calorie consumption will likely lead to weight gain.
The good news is that it only takes a few simple habit changes to help you get more shut-eye.
What is Sleep Hygiene?
Sleep hygiene is the practice of good habits that directly affect how you sleep at night. For individuals struggling with sleep, it is typically the first step towards resolution long before a doctor turns to medication.
There’s a reason this is the first recommendation among many doctors — Americans are really bad at it! Many of us spend too much time looking at screens or we’re not addressing problems in our environment that are keeping us from sleeping well. Here are six simple steps to better sleep hygiene.
1. Get Your Diet Right
Poor sleep can easily lead to poor dietary decisions the next day. Be aware of your eating and activity following nights when you get poor sleep. Sleep deprivation impairs your metabolism and makes you your decision making the next day! Be careful to monitor portions and make healthy food choices, while ensuring you maintain your physical activity levels with a good workout and by getting your steps in.
Have regularly scheduled meals, prioritizing protein. This combination regulates blood sugar, which is important for restful sleep. Avoid late-night eating. Finishing your last meal by 8 p.m. improves circadian rhythm and sets your hormones up for a restful night.
Supplement with magnesium. Magnesium is a calming mineral that plays a role in the body’s ability to metabolize cortisol and set you up for a good night’s rest.
Optimize vitamin D levels. Lack of vitamin D impairs the sleep-wake cycle in the brain and is associated with insomnia.
2. Change Your Caffeine Consumption
As much as I’d like to give you an easy rule for caffeine consumption and getting better sleep, I know from experience that everyone is different when it comes to how caffeine affects them. That’s why I simply recommend making adjustments until you experience a better night’s sleep.
For instance, if you typically drink coffee in the morning and again in the afternoon, switch out your afternoon cup for herbal tea or sparkling water. If you’re not drinking caffeine in the afternoon but downing an entire pot before heading to work or running your kids to school, try cutting that amount in half or switching to half-caf to see if you feel more rested.
3. Put Your Screens to Bed
It’s now harder than ever to get away from our devices. We are all constantly connected to something. Whether we’re staring at our smartphones, watching TV, or putting in late-night hours at work. The blue light from screens is known to mess with our circadian rhythms, making it harder to chill out and fall asleep when we get in bed.
To get more rest, put your screens to bed at least an hour before you plan to sleep. This is a hard habit to change, so I suggest building a new habit at the same time. Do you typically scroll social media before heading to sleep? Trying subbing it out for a reading habit, playing card games with your partner, or just talking with a friend.
4. Stay Consistent
Changing up your routine, even if only on the weekends, can mess with your sleep all week long. It is difficult to return to your old routine if you’re staying up late and sleeping all day on the weekends. Instead, it’s better to try to stick with your routine as much as possible on the weekends.
5. Get Your Environment Right
Is your bedroom a relaxing environment? Having a good space for sleep is an important part of sleep hygiene. Your bedroom should be dark and quiet and the temperature should feel comfortable to you. If you’ve been avoiding buying a new mattress or sheets that feel good to sleep in and you’re not sleeping well, it’s probably time to make some changes so you can get better sleep.
6. Start a Gratitude Journal
A gratitude journal in which you jot down what you’re grateful for has a calming effect that can focus your attention on the positive aspects of your life and away from the worries that keep your mind racing all night long.