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A good night’s sleep can help you maintain a healthy weight

If you’re finding your clothes have become a bit tighter or you’ve had to loosen your belt a notch, getting some good quality sleep could help you get your weight back to where you want it.

Studies have indicated that not enough Brits are getting enough time in dreamland, which has detrimental effects on physical and mental health. One surprising area that sleep can affect is body weight. In this article, we look at how sleep and body weight are connected and how addressing any sleep issues may help you if you’re trying to shed a few pounds.

How Does Sleep Affect Weight?

Sleep improves your brain function and ability to make decisions

Sleep is crucial for helping your brain function in all its various ways, improving things like daytime concentration, focus, and problem-solving, while minimising your likelihood of making errors. 

Not getting adequate sleep affects the brain’s frontal lobe, which is responsible for decision-making and self-control. A well-rested brain is therefore much better equipped to make informed, considered decisions, and this extends to making healthier choices when it comes to food and exercise.

Fatigue from lack of sleep can mean you don’t move throughout the day

Incorporating movement into your day is a critical part of leading a healthy lifestyle, and plays a big role in physical health and body weight. A lack of sleep can cause you to feel fatigue during the day, making you less inclined to exercise, and lowering your endurance when you do exercise.

Making improvements to your sleep can increase your energy and motivation, making you much more likely to get the physical activity you need during the day, not only to keep your fitness and weight at healthy levels, but also in turn improving your likelihood of getting adequate, quality sleep at night. 

Many people have found themselves stuck in a cycle of poor sleep and a lack of movement thanks to the restricted access to outdoor spaces, team sports, and gyms, brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. Taking some small steps to address your sleep routine and sleep habits can be enough to break the cycle and get you back on track.

A lack of sleep can increase your appetite

Have you ever found yourself mindlessly munching when you’ve had little sleep? A correlation has been found between sleep deprivation and a reported increase in appetite. Research suggests that this is caused by the impact of sleep on two of our hunger hormones: ghrelin, which signals hunger in the brain, and leptin, which suppresses it.

When you don’t get enough sleep, your body produces more ghrelin (the hunger hormone) and less leptin (the satiety hormone), leaving you feeling more hungry than you might actually be.

In addition to this, food is thought to stimulate the reward centres of your brain much more when you’re sleep-deprived, so not only do you feel more hungry, but you’ll find that extra piece of chocolate much more rewarding than you would if you were well rested.

Sleep helps prevent insulin resistance

Another hormone that can be affected by sleep habits is insulin, which helps to regulate blood sugar levels, moving sugar from your bloodstream to your cells, where it is used as energy.

Studies have shown that insufficient sleep can cause insulin resistance. This in turn increases blood sugar levels, leading your body to compensate by producing more insulin, which tells your body to store more fat and makes you feel hungry. This chain of events can contribute to weight gain and even diabetes.

Studies have suggested that even just a few nights of inadequate sleep can increase the likelihood of insulin resistance.

A lack of sleep can trigger stress hormones

Do you get the sense that sleep is linked to the regulation and balance of a lot of important hormones? You’d be right! 

Often referred to as the “stress hormone”, cortisol production is also linked to sleep. Your body tends to produce more cortisone when you haven’t caught enough Z’s, making you feel more stressed. Overeating (or undereating) due to stress is something many people experience at times, so it’s important to keep your stress levels in check and, rather than turning to comfort food, keeping a few other strategies up your sleeve, such as a brisk walk, a cup of tea and chat with a friend, or a 5 minute meditation. 

Cortisone itself may also increase your appetite, so even if you’ve got some healthy habits for reducing stress, it’s still best to address any sleep issues as well.

How can you get better quality sleep?

Since sleep plays such a big role in hormonal balance and brain function, making sure you get enough good quality sleep should be an important part of any attempts to lose weight. Not only will regular, adequate sleep make you feel much better, but you’re less likely to become frustrated or disheartened by a lack of results. Consider someone who is making healthy choices when it comes to food and exercise, but only gets a few light hours of sleep per night. Their efforts to maintain a desired body weight will be made more difficult by factors that are seemingly invisible. 

By following some expert tips, you can ensure you’re getting the most out of your efforts:

  • Set and stick to a regular wake up and bedtime routine

  • Have your last meal or snack at least one hour before bedtime

  • Make sure to get some exposure to daylight every day (and keep your bedroom as dark as possible at night)

  • Keep yourself adequately hydrated

  • Avoid caffeinated drinks and alcohol

You can find more tips in this guide to better sleep during COVID-19. 

Final thoughts

Before engaging in diet or weight loss efforts, consult your doctor to make sure you have a healthy plan that works for you and your body. Weight loss isn’t appropriate for every body, and good health can be linked to other factors that can’t be seen on the outside. If you’re concerned about your weight, diet, or sleep, or any of these factors is interfering significantly with your daily life, it’s important that you seek professional help.

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