However in this case ‘snooze to lose’ is actually a good thing. If you want to whittle your waistline then getting enough sleep is just as important as regular exercise when it comes to shifting those stubborn pounds! This is because your hormones are affected by sleep patterns which, in turn, affect appetite and wellbeing.
A bad night’s sleep causes Leptin (a hormone produced by fat cells levels) to drop, which signals insufficient metabolic reserves and the need to eat more calories. It also increases the hormone Ghrelin (produced in the stomach) which triggers appetite. It is this imbalance in hormone levels that upsets your metabolism, leading to over-eating and steady weight gain.
A study* found that people who sleep only two to four hours a night were 73% more likely to be obese than normal sleepers and researchers believe that sleep loss impacts on the appetite control hormones – Ghrelin and Leptin. In those consistently sleeping five hours compared with those sleeping eight, there was a 14.9% increase in Ghrelin and a 15.5% decrease in Leptin.
Research by Eastern Ontario Research Institute and Laval University in Quebec (Sept 2012) also found that those people who shifted their sleeping pattern from less than six hours to between seven and eight hours a night put on 2.4kg less weight over a six year period.
When we’re tired we’re more likely to crave sugary snacks and stodgy carbohydrates to keep us going and because our energy levels are low, we’re less motivated to work out and burn off those calories. Researchers** believe that activity in the brain’s frontal lobe (which governs impulse control, judgement, emotional responses and complex decision making) is diminished after a poor night’s sleep making us more susceptible to these poor food choices.
This was backed up by further research*** which found that when people were short on sleep, exposure to images of unhealthy food activated reward centres in the brain that were not activated by healthy foods. This only happened when people were sleep-deprived.
So should we be swapping our gym kit for a new mattress and sleeping our way to diet success? Well not just yet. But I think it’s safe to say that a combination of good sleep and exercise will result in weight loss. Dieters should aim to get seven to eight hours of quality snoozing a night and combine this with an exercise plan and sensible eating.
So if you struggle to sleep then treat bedtime like a workout – create a sleep regime that is regular, steady and an important part of everyday routine.
*Research by Prof Emmanuel Mignot of Stanford University and Dr Shahrad Taheri of the University of Bristol; 2004
** University of California Berkeley, 2012
***New York’s St Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital Center and Columbia University (2012)