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When people talk about weight loss and healthy lifestyles, the two things that most often come up are diet and exercise.  But there is a big part of this equation that people often forget- sleep!  You read that correctly; sleep can be a vital part of any weight loss program and every healthy lifestyle.

There is extensive data showing how sleep is integral to a healthy lifestyle.  Sleep deprivation or irregular sleep patterns have been linked to weight gain risk, increased snacking, increased cravings, lower metabolism, lower willpower for junk food, increased stress levels, lower insulin sensitivity, and less fat burning.  That is a pretty significant list that clearly shows the connection between poor sleep and weight issues.

But the real questions are how and why sleep is so impactful.  Well, specifically a lot of it has to do with the way sleep impacts hormone regulation.  Let’s take a look at some of these hormones:

1) Ghrelin– Ghrelin is an enzyme produced in the body that stimulates appetite.  Because you don’t require a tremendous amount of energy during sleep, ghrelin levels decrease significantly during slumber.  So, what this means if you are not sleeping enough, is that your ghrelin levels don’t decrease enough, and your body thinks it’s hungry when it’s not.  It will also cause your body to stop burning calories as a response to this perceived hunger- a double whammy!

2) Leptin- Leptin is a hormone that functions opposite to ghrelin- it controls hunger and the feeling of satiety that comes from eating right and eating enough.   Additionally, leptin is believed to be responsible for managing the way your body stores fat.  As opposed to ghrelin, during sleep, leptin levels increase so your brain knows it’s satiated and doesn’t having to worry about eating for a while.  Of course, when you don’t sleep enough, your leptin levels don’t increase enough and, again, your brain thinks it needs food when it doesn’t.  Over time, this can create constant hunger and a very slow metabolism.

3) Insulin– Insulin is a hormone that regulates blood glucose levels.  Not getting enough ZZZs can cause insulin levels to rise by making your fat cells less sensitive to insulin.  This impairs your body’s ability to burn fat as well as raising your risk for diabetes and other cardiovascular diseases.

4) Cortisol– Cortisol is the body’s stress hormone and its impact on weight as a result of sleep deprivation is similar to that of insulin.  Cortisol levels naturally decrease in the evening to prepare the body for sleep.  However, in individuals that are sleep deprived, this process is impaired and they maintain higher cortisol levels.  Over time, this can lead to insulin resistance and again, your risk factor for diabetes goes way up.

So what can you do to ensure you are getting enough sleep?  That would be seven to eight hours a night.  Here are some tips:

1) Exercise for at least 30 minutes a day (but not too close to bedtime)

2) Make your sleeping environment as dark as possible, or consider using an eye mask

3) Avoid alcohol, caffeine, and tobacco near bedtime

4) Keep your bedroom between 60 and 68 degrees

5) Avoid TV and other blue light (computer screens) in bed

So start focusing on getting your ZZZs!!!!

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Dr. Candice Seti


California-licensed Clinical Psychologist, Certified Nutrition Coach, and Certified Personal Trainer

Dr. Candice Seti

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