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The Sleep Solution

Hayley Dawes
19 January 2023

Diet and exercise are two key aspects of successful weight loss, but there’s another important factor that tends to get neglected: sleep! Adults need an average of seven to nine hours of sleep, which most of us don’t get. Interestingly, mounting evidence shows that sleep may be the missing factor many people who are having difficulty losing weight.

Getting enough shut eye matters way beyond begin a little tired or less productive; it can affect your weight. Making sure you get enough sleep may help prevent increases in calorie intake and appetite that can happen when you’re sleep deprived – this is due to its effects on hormones that signal hunger and fullness. Inadequate sleep triggers metabolic and hormonal changes that can increase appetite and cravings and decrease insulin sensitivity. These effects are so significant that inadequate sleep is considered a risk factor for weight gain and obesity.

Poor sleep may also negatively affect the sympathetic nervous system, resulting in increased levels of cortisol – a hormone related to stress. Additionally, many sleep disorders, such as sleep apnea, may get worse with weight gain. Unfortunately, this can lead to a cycle of poor sleep leading to weight gain and weight gain leading to poor sleep. 

Furthermore, a lack of sleep can make it even more difficult to stick to healthy food choices, since mental health, mood and thought patterns are also impacted. So, what can you do to make your snoozes longer and more restful? When it comes to losing weight, sleep can be just as important as nutrition. These six changes can make for better sleep and weight loss:

  1. Hydrate Early in the Day

Keeping the body hydrated is key for weight loss – and apparently also for getting adequate sleep. However, when we suffer from getting up several times a night to go to the bathroom could disrupt your overall sleep, so how do you hydrate to support weight loss and sleep without waking up during the night?

Determine your daily water goal, then spread those ounces throughout the day. Emphasise getting most of it by mid-afternoon. You can still have more water and other fluids after that time; just don’t use the late afternoon and evening hours to get the majority of your daily hydration.

  1. Limit Caffeine After Lunch

Be careful to avoid caffeine in the late afternoon and evening. It turns out caffeine can remain in the body for 6-9 hours after it’s consumed. For those sensitive to caffeine, this can make falling asleep difficult. Even if it doesn’t seem to prevent you falling asleep, having remnants of the stimulant in your body can decrease the amount of deep sleep you get. Also watch out for any medications or supplements you take in the evening that may contain caffeine.

  1. Eat a High-Fiber Diet

Eating high-fiber, less-processed foods is key for weight loss, as well as to prevent most chronic diseases. Plus, it may even help your sleep. These foods such as fruits, vegetables, beans, and whole grains are what sustainable weight loss programs are centered around, since these foods are high in nutrients while also being lower in calories, added sugars and sodium. You’re likely already focusing on these foods if you’re trying to lose weight, so use the possible benefit of better sleep as additional motivation to continue to make smart eating choices.

Getting a full night’s sleep may help you make healthier food choices. Lack of sleep alters the way your brain works and can affect decision making. This may make it harder to make healthy food choices and resist tempting foods. In addition, it appears that the rewards centers of the brain are more stimulated by food when you are sleep deprived.

Going to sleep earlier may help you avoid the late-night snacking that often comes with staying up past your bedtime. Pushing your bedtime later means you’re staying up longer, which creates a larger window of time for eating, especially if it has been many hours since dinner.

  1. Get Moving 

Exercise burns calories, however being physically active also helps you sleep better at night. Those who get regular exercise – regardless of length or type of activity – sleep longer and get more of the deep, restorative sleep that’s essential for health compared with those who are less active.

Burning calories and sleeping better is a double win when trying to lose weight. Try to establish and stick with a regular workout schedule. Aim for at least 20-30 minutes of physical activity every day. 

  1. Get Some Sunlight 

Do you struggle to fall asleep or stay asleep? Making a point to step outside a few times a day and get a little sunlight may help. The reason has to do with the body’s circadian rhythms, which orchestrate and oversee our internal clock and schedule. Light and darkness influence these rhythms, so incorporating snippets of sunlight into your day can help remind your body it’s time to be awake and alert. Going outside for a short walk cues your body’s rhythms to promote sleep later that night when it’s dark.

The goal is that as the day ends and gets darker, your circadian rhythms will respond by helping your body relax and fall asleep more easily.

  1. Skip That Nightly Glass of Wine

Losing weight isn’t about deprivation; all foods and drinks can fit into a healthy weight loss approach. If you like to have an occasional alcoholic drink, then you can opt for a lower-calorie cocktail like a glass of wine or light beer.

Even though alcohol is a sedative and can help you initially fall asleep, the aftereffects – even from just one drink – can trigger less-restful sleep a few hours later. Less sleep plus dehydration equals a bad combo for weight loss.

It’s fine to enjoy a cocktail or two on occasion – just don’t make it a nightly habit. Even though you may not feel the effects from one drink per night, the sleep loss slowly adds up. Be aware that the more you consume, the more the amount of restful sleep you’re getting will decrease.