blog Nov 03, 2023

In the quest for weight loss, we often focus on diets and/or hitting the gym, overlooking a crucial element: sleep.

That's right; it's one of the six “plates” we need to keep up and spinning for optimal health. The quality and quantity of your slumber can be a game-changer in your mission to shed those extra pounds.

To understand the intricate relationship between sleep and metabolism, it's essential to grasp the basics of how your body manages the energy it receives. Think of your metabolism is like a finely-tuned symphony. Just as there are many instruments required to play in harmony to make beautiful music, your body is composed of numerous biochemical processes that occur within us, all of which need to play their part. It can be broken down into two main phases: catabolism (the breakdown of molecules for energy) and anabolism (the synthesis of molecules for growth and repair). These two phases need to work in perfect harmony for your body to function optimally.

Hormones are like the conductor to this metabolic symphony, particularly those related to appetite and metabolism. Among these hormones, two stars stand out: leptin and ghrelin. Leptin signals to your brain that you've had enough to eat, while ghrelin stimulates your appetite. When your sleep patterns are out of sync, these hormonal signals can go haywire, impacting your ability to maintain a healthy weight. Remember the movie, “Gremlins”? That's ghrelin gone haywire, turning that symphony into a horror movie.

The influence of sleep on metabolism has been extensively researched, and the results are clear: a lack of sleep disrupts your hormones. Sleep deprivation leads to an increase in ghrelin production, which makes you feel hungrier and crave those things you'd likely not choose under normal circumstances, and a decrease in leptin levels, making it harder to feel full. This hormonal imbalance often results in sleep-deprived individuals not just consuming more food, but foods that are nutrient poor usually processed carbohydrates and high not-so-good-fat foods, which can contribute to weight gain. As well, even when you do manage to make healthier choices, a sleep-deprived body cannot properly process the food you're giving it.

A study published in the journal "Sleep" highlighted the significant impact of sleep deprivation. It showed that participants who slept only four hours per night for two consecutive nights experienced a 24% increase in ghrelin and a 26% decrease in leptin levels, making them more prone to overeating. Chronic sleep deprivation has been closely associated with a higher body mass index (BMI) and an increased risk of obesity.

Insulin, another critical hormone in the metabolic process, plays a pivotal role in regulating blood sugar levels. When you don't get enough sleep, your body's sensitivity to insulin diminishes. This means your cells become less effective at absorbing glucose for energy, leading to higher blood sugar levels. Elevated blood sugar levels can, in turn, promote fat storage, also making it more challenging to lose weight.

A study published in "Diabetes Care" provided insights into how even a week of insufficient sleep can lead to reduced insulin sensitivity. In this study, young, healthy adults who slept only four to five hours per night experienced a 25-30% reduction in insulin sensitivity, a level of impairment similar to individuals with diabetes.

Beyond hormonal disruption, sleep deprivation can also affect your energy levels as well as your ability to engage in physical activity. When you're tired, you're less likely to exercise. And even if you do manage to work out, your performance may suffer. This lack of physical activity can lead to muscle loss which can further hinder your weight loss efforts.

Research published in the "Annals of Internal Medicine" emphasized the importance of sleep in physical activity and weight loss. The study found that individuals who were sleep-deprived (receiving 5.5 hours of sleep) lost less body fat compared to those who received 8.5 hours of sleep, even when both groups consumed the same number of calories.

While the quantity of sleep is undoubtedly important, so is the quality. Within the realm of sleep, there is one particular phase that holds a special key to regulating appetite and metabolism – Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep. REM sleep is where most dreams occur, and it plays a crucial role in the balance of appetite-regulating hormones. Disruptions in REM sleep can lead to an imbalance in these hormones, which can contribute to weight gain.

To ensure that you get adequate REM sleep, it's crucial to incorporate good sleep hygiene practices into your daily routine.

  1. Aim for 7-9 hours of sleep each night: Try waking up with out an alarm and when you feel rested, that's the number of hours your body needs.

  2. Create a sleep-conducive environment: Keep your bedroom dark, quiet, and a few degrees cooler than the rest of the house.

  3. Establish a regular sleep schedule: Going to bed and waking up at the same time every day, even on weekends, helps regulate your body's internal clock.

  4. Limit caffeine and alcohol: Avoid late in the day as they can interfere with your sleep patterns.

  5. Manage stress: Try meditation, deep breathing, yoga, warm bath to help calm your mind before bedtime.

  6. Mindful eating: A small whole food snack including protein an hour or so before bed is beneficial, processed, packaged and sugary foods, not so much.

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