Ahh, sleep. That restful, healthful thing we do each day. It
rejuvenates the body. It restores the soul. It allows us to
awaken feeling refreshed and renewed.
The answer – a resounding “YES!” – may surprise you. What’s
even more surprising is how much evidence supports the fact
that regular and adequate sleep can help you control your
weight. But what I find most eye-opening of all is how long
we’ve known about the relationship to good health and good
Since that time, researchers have discovered that sleep is much
more important to our health than we might have imagined.
And recently, it is becoming increasingly evident that a good
night’s sleep is also more important than we ever imagined to
our weight control. When you’re sleep deprived…even a
little…you create additional obstacles to your weight loss goals.
In The Promise of Sleep, author Dr. William C. Dement writes that
when people are sleep deprived, they lack energy throughout
the day. This lack of energy translates into less activity which
means fewer calories burned. The body reacts to this by
hoarding calories as fat, making weight loss very difficult.
One reason is pure commerce: someone is always trying to
make money with weight loss products and the promise of
dropping pounds without doing anything but getting a good
night’s sleep is very appealing. But the more important reason
that ‘lose weight while you sleep’ is such a commonly heard
phrase these days is that science is catching up to the notion
that sleep is important to weight loss.
To reiterate the importance of regular exercise, I want to
emphasize that one of the best outcomes of regular exercise is
not just the calories you burn while exercising.
Regular exercise bumps up your resting metabolic rate and
helps you burn more calories at rest. Even while you sleep!
Thus, if you do exercise regularly, you will soon begin to “lose
weight while you sleep”.
But there’s another newer set of findings about sleep
that may be just as important. Researchers are
finding that sleep and how much of it you get
regularly has an important effect on hormones that
regulate your appetite and regulate your
David Rapoport, MD, director of the Sleep Medicine Program
at the New York University School of Medicine in New York City
points out that "One of the more interesting ideas that has
been smoldering and is now gaining momentum (in weight loss
theory) is the appreciation of the fact that sleep and sleep
disruption do remarkable things to the body -- including
possibly influencing our weight."
What Dr. Rapaport and other researchers are referring to are
new findings that the amount of sleep and the quality of sleep
you get may influence hormone levels that control your
appetite and carbohydrate metabolism.
According to Michael Breus, PhD, a faculty member of the
Atlanta School of Sleep Medicine and director of The Sleep
Disorders Centers of Southeastern Lung Care in Atlanta, one of
the most intriguing findings has to do with recently discovered
hormones leptin and ghrelin. These two hormones work in
tandem in a "checks and balances" system that regulates
feelings of hunger and fullness.
Lack of sleep causes leptin levels to drop and ghrelin levels to
rise, so you feel unsatisfied after you eat.
In the Chicago study, 12 male subjects underwent two days of
sleep deprivation followed by two days of extended sleep.
During this time doctors continued to monitor hormone
levels, appetite, and activity and compared them to pre-test
data. At the same time, the men's appetite also
increased…massively! Their desire for high
carbohydrate, calorie-dense foods increased by a whopping
Approximately 1,000 volunteers reported the number of hours
they slept each night. They had their levels of ghrelin and
leptin measured, and researchers also charted their weight. As
expected, those who slept less than eight hours a night had
lower levels of leptin and higher levels of ghrelin. But…they
also had a higher level of body fat. What's more, that level of
body fat seemed to correlate with their sleep patterns.
Specifically, those who slept the fewest hours per night
weighed the most.
When we are deprived of sleep, the hormone cortisol is
released at an increased level and makes us feel hungry even if
we are full. Cortisol signals the body to load up with calories in
anticipation of needing energy for ‘fight or flight.’ As a result
of increased cortisol production, people who continue to lose
sleep on a regular basis will tend to experience hunger even
when they have had an adequate amount of calories.
So more sleep means fewer problems with almost every
aspect of weight loss, from the physiology to the psychology.
Sleep is important to every aspect of body wellness.
It’s also clear that sleep loss can increase hunger and affect
your body’s metabolism in a way that makes weight loss more
You don’t have to eat less. You don’t have to exercise more.
Sleep is the third prong of three-part approach to achieving
and maintaining a healthy weight. Together with the kind of
eating plan you’ll find in the Eat More, Weigh Less Diet and
regular exercise, these three ‘legs’ give you a well-balanced
foundation on which to build your life. When you aren’t
sleeping enough, your body is unable to go into its normal
deep sleep pattern. Deep sleep restores energy levels and
losing it decreases growth hormone levels. (Growth hormone is
a protein that helps regulate the body’s proportions of fat and
muscle in adults.
I know it may seem counter-intuitive. You’d think that you’d be
burning more calories if you were awake than asleep. But with
less sleep – and therefore less growth hormone – you hobble
your body’s ability to lose fat and grow muscle.