Sleep Yourself Thin – How Sleep Affects Your Weight

If you’re looking to lose weight, the basic premise is pretty straightforward – eat less, move more. By reducing your caloric intake below your maintenance level and burning additional calories through exercise you’ll start to see the numbers drop on the scale.

Sounds easy, right? But anyone that’s attempted (and undoubtedly failed more than once) to drop a few pounds will know that it’s never quite as simple as that. Once that initial motivational fire dwindles to a few burning embers it’s increasingly difficult to stick to your initial plan.

The key to long term success in weight loss is ensuring that the odds are in your favour, and that you’re doing everything you can to make it as easy as possible. While diet and exercise are core components of success, you could be making things harder by ignoring another cornerstone of good health – sleep.


Sleep and Exercise

When you sleep there’s a number of hugely important things going on in your body when it comes to your health, and not sleeping well can seriously stack the deck against you when it comes to losing weight.

When you’re awake, and particularly when you’re exercising, your body is in what’s known as a catabolic state. You are breaking down the molecules in your body for the energy to get through your workout, and you’re actually leaving the gym in a worse condition than when you entered!

The real progress occurs when the body goes into an anabolic state, which is when the body goes into recovery mode and starts to repair the damage done throughout the day. This process, combined with exercise and good nutrition, is what will cause improvements in strength, endurance and muscle size.

Sleep is known to be an elevated anabolic state, so ensuring you sleep well will maximise your recovery and allow you to make progress in the gym. Being able to train harder, for a longer period of time, will enhance our ability to burn calories through exercise.

Killing Your Cravings

We all know that moderating our intake of food is key when it comes to weight loss, and when you’re tired and worn out it’s way too easy to find yourself reaching for that bar of chocolate or that tasty donut!

The craving for the quick energy these foods provide is often caused at a hormonal level, and it’s possible to better regulate these hormones through good quality sleep.

Leptin, also known as the satiety hormone, plays a huge role in appetite regulation. Lower leptin levels send signals to our body that you need more calories, which can make sticking to your diet much more difficult. When you’re battling against your body like this there’s only going to be one winner.

A 2004 study showed that sleep-deprived subjects had significantly reduced leptin levels when compared with those who had been sleeping well. There was also a study that showed reduced activity in the part of the brain linked with self-control and decision making, meaning you’re less likely to make good nutritional decisions when you’re sleep-deprived.

The combination of the body demanding more calories and your reduced willpower make success far more difficult than it needs to be. Optimising your sleep is at least as important as choosing the right diet and workout routine when it comes to losing weight successfully.


Getting the Perfect Sleep

Most people don’t sleep particularly well, but there are a few tweaks you can make to your normal routine which will help you sleep like a baby.

Avoiding caffeine after 1pm should reduce the amount in your system and make it easier to get to sleep at night. Also try to avoid alcohol later in the day, as it can seriously interfere with sleep quality.

Get into a routine when it comes to going to bed and waking up. Going to bed at a regular time and waking up early will help set your body clock to expect rest during that time. Your body craves routine, and tying in your sleep to natural circadian rhythms can make getting a great sleep much easier.

Try to keep your bedroom as dark as possible, and avoid brightly lit screens for a while before bedtime. Shut down the laptop, switch off the TV and pick up a book for an hour or so before you sleep. Too much light at night will send signals to the body that you should still be awake, so try to limit non-natural light as it gets closer to bedtime.

Working out in the morning can also have a positive impact on your sleep. Studies have shown that those working out in the morning spend more time in the restorative deep sleep phase than those who exercise at other times of the day, so make the most of your early rise and get a workout in before work.


Three Keys of Success

Nutrition, exercise and sleep. Get them all right and you’ll be well on the way to the body you want. While all three are essential for success, you’ll find that they are also hugely complementary to each other.

Exercise well and you’ll sleep better. Sleep better and you’ll eat better. Eat better and you’ll have more energy to exercise. It’s a real success loop that will make sticking to your weight loss plan so much easier!


  • Updated May 26, 2020
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