We all know sleep is very important for immune, physical and mental health because it's the body's period of restoration. But much research shows that the amount of rest we get each night has implications for weight loss and gain. A long-established study revealed to researchers that getting less than five or six hours of sleep per night put one at increased risk of being overweight.
However, more recent studies reveal the mechanisms of the effect of sleep loss on weight, and some of the results are almost frighteningly, especially for people who are sacrificing sleep to get in an extra workout or plan healthier meals.
According to one 2012 study by researchers at the University of Chicago, sleep loss changes the biology of fat cells, making them more insulin-resistant. The small study involved seven subjects who switched from sleeping 8.5 hours per night to 4.5 hours per night. After just four days of the new sleep schedule, researchers found profound effects: The lack of sleep aged the subjects' fat cells 20 years!
Aside from signaling our bodies to keep more fat, lack of sleep also increases the likelihood of gaining weight because less sleep lowers the body's leptin levels – a hormone that controls appetite. This causes someone to crave carbohydrates. A recent University of Colorado study found surprising results after participants had just one week of inadequate sleep. Turns out, sleep-deprived people burned 111 extra calories per day and had an increased metabolism. However, this is misleadingly positive. In fact, the people who got less sleep (the control group was allowed nine hours) consumed many more calories – about 6 percent more – than others throughout the day and gained an average of two pounds.
The good news
In contrast, a 2012 study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal found that for people enrolled in a weight loss program, both quality and length of sleep were important in predicting their weight loss. That is, adequate sleep can contribute to weight loss.
Tips for getting enough sleep
Even if you're not looking to lose weight, getting adequate sleep is incredibly important for body function in all areas. Here are some tips to help you get better sleep to stay healthy:
Avoid caffeine five to eight hours before bedtime.
Use your bed only for sleeping or sex. Doing other activities in bed, like watching videos or reading, can confuse your body.
Unplug and disconnect at least one hour before bed. Research has shown that the blue light from screens – whether that is a TV, laptop, tablet or smartphone screen – can disrupt and delay the secretion of melatonin, a hormone that influences the circadian rhythm, or sleep cycle.
Develop a bedtime routine that involves calming activities like reading a paperback or meditating.
If you have a very difficult time falling asleep, try Naturade SlumberAid, which contains melatonin, magnesium and a full range of B vitamins for sleep promotion. Talk to your doctor first if you plan to try this product.