It’s the perpetual new year’s resolution, a promise we make to ourselves over and over again. I’m going to lose weight and keep it off this time. In fact, a 72 billion dollar industry has sprung up designed to help us keep that promise. But is spending all that money really necessary? Recent research has shown that there is a strong connection between sleep and weight loss.
So, no matter what your reason is for wanting to lose weight, to look better, feel better or to lower your risks of serious diseases like CHF, heart disease, diabetes, cancer and more. You can achieve faster more permanent results just by following a few simple guidelines.
Sleep and Weight Loss, What’s the Connection?
Remember the advice “don’t eat a meal right before bed”? The thought was that the calories you took in right before bed wouldn’t get burnt off and they would turn into fat. While there are conflicting studies regarding this, what is indisputable is that sleep affects weight loss through physiological, psychological and even behavioral means. We’ll explore each of these a little later in the article. But first, here is what we know about sleep and weight loss.
- 74% Of people who got a good night’s sleep reported that it was easier to lose weight.
- 82% Found it easier to stick to a healthy diet.
- People who slept less than 7 hours had more trouble sticking to a healthy diet.
- People who slept less than 7 hours were more likely exceed their weekly alcohol limit.
- 2/3 Of the people who slept less than 7 hours admitted to snacking between meals.
- Only 17% of those who got a good night’s sleep admitted to snacking.
- People with poor sleeping habits lost 55% less fat than their counterparts who got enough sleep.
Sleep and Weight Loss: The Physiological Connection
Sleep disturbances and sleep deprivation cause physiological changes in the body that make weight loss difficult. This is mostly due to how sleep, and the lack thereof affects various hormone levels. Specifically:
Leptin – This is a hormone made by fat cells that tells the brain when you are full or satiated. It in effect decreases your appetite by telling your brain that you’ve eaten enough. Both sleep deprivation and sleep disturbances reduce the level of leptin in the blood contributing overeating and higher calorie intake.
Ghrelin – This hormone is released in the stomach, known as the “hunger hormone” it stimulates the appetite. When we wake up tired from a poor night’s sleep, our bodies compensate by releasing ghrelin
Cortisol – Cortisol is a stress hormone regulated in the pituitary gland. It plays a major role in the “fight or flight” response. It also manages how your body handles carbohydrates and fats. Sleep disturbances cause an increase in cortisol levels which cause weight gain.
Insulin – Insulin is a hormone secreted by the pancreas that allows the body to process sugars and carbohydrates so that they can be used as fuel for the body. Studies have shown that sleep deprivation lowers the body’s ability to break down sugars by 40%. This means that blood sugar levels are elevated which can lead to type 2 diabetes and weight gain.
Not All Sleep is Created Equal
As you can see, getting the proper sleep will go a long ways towards your weight loss goals when combined with diet and exercise. But just what is proper or restful sleep?
While the exact number is different for everyone, a general rule of thumb is that adults need 7-9 hours of restful sleep per night. And what is restful sleep? Put simply, it’s 7-9 hours of uninterrupted sleep where you pass through all 4 stages of the sleep cycle.
It’s important to note that all three elements must be present in order to receive the full benefits associated with sleep and weight loss.
- Duration – Generally 7-9 hours per night
- Uninterrupted – Without waking up or being disturbed during the night
- Achieving all 4 stages of sleep – Stage 1 non-REM sleep is the changeover from wakefulness to sleep. Stage 2 non-REM sleep is a period of light sleep before you enter deeper sleep. Stage 3 non-REM sleep is the period of deep sleep that you need to feel refreshed in the morning. Stage 4 REM sleep first occurs about 90 minutes after falling asleep.
We often times don’t remember waking up at night so it’s important take note of how you feel when waking up. Symptoms like headache, sore throat, excessive tiredness and foggy thinking need further investigation.
Factors That Can Negatively Affect Sleep and Weight Loss
Insomnia is defined as having difficulty falling and/or staying asleep. Symptoms include:
- Difficulty falling asleep
- Waking up often during the night and having trouble going back to sleep
- Waking up too early in the morning
- Feeling tired upon waking
Insomnia can be a short term problem (acute insomnia) or a long term issue (chronic insomnia).
Short term or acute insomnia can be caused by many issues including:
- Significant life stress, job loss, divorce, death or moving.
- Illnesses like colds and flu can cause temporary insomnia.
- The surrounding environment if it’s noisy, bright or otherwise disorienting.
- Jet lag
Longer term or chronic insomnia can be caused by:
- Chronic stress
- Chronic pain or discomfort
Treatments for Insomnia
The treatments for insomnia vary, short term acute insomnia may not even require treatment. Although practicing good sleep hygiene can help or even cure acute insomnia. See sleep hygiene tips below.
The treatment for chronic or long term insomnia starts by treating the underlying condition. Getting the proper treatment for anxiety and or depression will often times take care of the insomnia with no other interventions. Similarly, treating chronic pain, breathing issues and other chronic illnesses can alleviate insomnia and its symptoms.
Snoring and Obstructive Sleep Apnea
Both snoring and obstructive sleep apnea are caused by blockage in the airway. This blockage can be from extra tissue in the throat nose or sinuses as well as tongue.
As we fall asleep, all of our muscles relax. As the muscles in our throat and mouth relax, the tongue as well as any excess tissue can fall to the back of the throat blocking the airway.
When the airway is only partially blocked, the tissues vibrate causing the sound we know as snoring.
When the airway is completely blocked, breathing can stop all together. This is obstructive sleep apnea.
Both snoring and obstructive sleep apnea can interrupt the normal sleep cycle causing all of the hormonal problems discussed above.
Treatments for Snoring and Obstructive Sleep Apnea
Obstructive Sleep Apnea – OSA is clearly the more dangerous of the two conditions and if you suspect you or your partner have it, you should talk to your doctor immediately. Depending on the severity and the cause of your condition there are three main treatments.
Using a fitted mouthpiece can be effective for those with mild to moderate OSA that is caused by the tongue or excess tissue in the throat. This is a device that looks similar the mouthpiece a football player or boxer would wear. You put it in at night and it works by holding the lower jaw forward so that the tongue and any excess tissue can’t fall back and block the airway. It also has the added benefit of eliminating teeth grinding for those who have issues with that.
Positives – Inexpensive, easy to use, portable, eliminates teeth grinding, no prescription needed.
Negatives – Only works with mild to moderate OSA. Only works with OSA caused by tongue or excess tissue located at the top of throat. Takes time to become accustomed to sleeping with a mouthpiece.
CPAP stands for Continuous Positive Airway Pressure. This is the most common treatment for OSA prescribed by doctors. The CPAP machine pumps a continuous flow of air through a tube that is connected to a mask that the patient wears when sleeping. This pressurized air opens up the airway allowing uninterrupted sleep.
Positives – Extremely effective at treating OSA. Can be used to treat all levels of OSA (mild – severe), it’s also an effective treatment for snoring. Painless.
Negatives – Requires a prescription from a doctor as well as a “sleep study” for a diagnosis. While most machines are portable, they can be bulky and a hard to transport. Expensive, depending on your insurance. Your sleep will be monitored by your insurance company to insure that you are using it, if not they may stop paying for it. It can take some time to get use to sleeping with a CPAP.
In some cases your doctor may recommend a surgical option. This usually involves removing excess tissue in the nose/sinuses and/or the throat.
Positives – For severe cases surgery may be the only option. If it works it can be a permanent solution. You don’t have to use a CPAP, mouthpiece or anything else.
Negatives – Expensive, depending on your insurance. Painful, personal experience here, I had tissue removed from my throat and it was extremely painful! Not always successful (mine included). Recovery time and risks associated with any surgery (infection, reactions to anesthesia or other meds).
Snoring, while not as dangerous for your health as OSA, if you’re concerned about sleep and weight loss, treating your snoring is paramount. Besides, effective treatments for snoring are readily available, easy to use and relatively inexpensive. There is really no reason not to treat snoring.
These are the same ones used for treating OSA and they work on the same principle. By holding the lower jaw forward it keeps the tongue and excess tissue in the throat from falling back and blocking the airway.
Positives – No prescription required. Can be custom fitted at home (boil and bite). Easy to travel with. Inexpensive and highly effective for tongue and throat snorers. Also eliminates teeth grinding.
Negatives – It can take some time to get use to sleeping with a mouthpiece. Low quality mouthpieces can be uncomfortable. Not effective for people whos snoring is caused by nasal or sinus issues. Mouthpieces will need to be replaced every 3-4 months.
Positional Snoring Solutions
Snoring is most likely to occur when sleeping on our backs. This position makes it easy for the tongue and excess tissue to fall to the back of the throat blocking the airway. One of the simplest ways to avoid this is by changing our sleeping position. Instead if sleeping on you back, try sleeping on your side. Many times this is all you’ll need to conquer snoring. But for those who can’t sleep on their sides or just like sleeping on their backs, there are some ingenious solutions!
Anti snoring or wedge pillows
These pillows are designed to hold the head and neck up while you sleep. By keeping the head up excess tissue and the tongue are not falling to the back of the throat blocking the airway.
Positives – Inexpensive, effective for mild to moderate snoring. Non-invasive.
Negatives – Less effective for people who snore due to nasal or sinus issues. Can be cumbersome to travel with. May be uncomfortable for people with neck or back issues.
This little gadget is an insert that you put under your pillow at night. It actively listens for signs of snoring. When it detects that you are about to start snoring it quietly inflates the insert, lifting your head until the snoring stops. Smart nora is also coming out with an app for your phone so that you can track your sleep and snoring episodes.
Positives – Works with virtually any pillow. Portable and easy to travel with. Smart technology detects snoring and adjusts pillow accordingly. Works with minimal sleep disruption as adjustments are made after you have already fallen asleep. 30 day money back guarantee.
Negatives – It’s not inexpensive at $300. Light sleepers may wake up when the device is adjusting pillow height. It’s less effective for those with snoring caused by nasal or sinus issues.
Adjustable beds are a great solution for snoring. With variable positions, you can always find one that not only alleviates snoring, but is comfortable too. They are also good for people with chronic neck, back or hip pain.
Positives – Adjustable beds not only provide relief from snoring, but they eliminate pressure points that can cause pain and disturb sleep. Adjustable beds are non-invasive and good for circulation as well as for reading or watching tv in bed.
Negatives – Expensive, while lower end models can be as cheap as a few hundred dollars. A quality adjustable bed will run into the $2,000-$4,000 range. Heavy, because they come with a motor that adjusts the bed, they tend to be quite heavy. Not portable, your out of luck when traveling.
Nasal and Sinus Snoring Solutions
These can be helpful for light nasal snoring. They are flexible strips that have adhesive on one side. The adhesive side is placed over the bridge of the nose. This has the effect of opening up the nasal passageways so that air passes through more easily.
Positives – Inexpensive and widely available. You can find nasal strips at any neighborhood pharmacy. Non-invasive, they attach to the outside of the nose. Ease of use, they are very simple to apply and use correctly.
Negatives – They can look funny, but only if your worried about how you look when you’re asleep. They don’t work very well for heavy snoring. The adhesive can cause irritation in people with sensitive skin.
You can think of nasal dilators as nasal strips on steroids. Instead of going over the nose and pulling the nostrils open, nasal dilators are inserted into the nose holding the nostrils open.
Positives – Nasal dilators tend to work better than nasal strips and can therefore be used for those who are heavier snorers. Minimally invasive, while they are inserted into the nose, they are small and stay in place easily.
Negatives – It can take some time to get use to sleeping with something inserted in your nose. They may not be effective for very heavy snorers. They only work if your snoring is caused by nasal or sinus issues, tongue and throat snorers should seek other solutions.
Good Sleep Hygiene Habits to Promote Sleep and Weight Loss
In addition to treating the above mentioned sleep disturbances, here are some basic generalized tips for promoting healthy sleep and weight loss.
- Go to sleep at the same time each night and get up at the same time each morning. Try not to take naps during the day, as naps may make you less sleepy at night.
- Avoid use of phones or reading devices (“e-books”) that give off light before bed. Their blue light can make it harder to fall asleep.
- Avoid caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol late in the day. Caffeine and nicotine are stimulants and can keep you from falling asleep. Alcohol can cause waking in the night and interferes with sleep quality.
- Get regular exercise. Try not to exercise close to bedtime, because it may stimulate you and make it hard to fall asleep. Experts suggest not exercising for at least three to four hours before the time you go to sleep.
- Don’t eat a heavy meal late in the day. A light snack before bedtime, however, may help you sleep.
- Make your bedroom comfortable. Be sure that it is dark, quiet, and not too warm or too cold. If light is a problem, try a sleeping mask. If noise is a problem, try earplugs, a fan, or a “white noise” machine to cover up the sounds.
- Follow a routine to help you relax before sleep. Read a book, listen to music, or take a bath.
- Avoid using your bed for anything other than sleep or sex.
- If you can’t fall asleep and don’t feel drowsy, get up and read or do something that is not overly stimulating until you feel sleepy.
- If you find yourself lying awake worrying about things, try making a to-do list before you go to bed. This may help you to not focus on those worries overnight.
Sleep and Weight Loss: Conclusion
We are continually learning more and more about the link between sleep and weight loss. But one thing is certain. Healthy uninterrupted sleep is essential for successful long-term weight loss. In fact some research suggests that quality sleep is just as important as diet and exercise for weight loss. But whether you are looking to lose weight or not, practicing good sleep hygiene and treating your sleep disturbances will improve your health substantially.
As always, we hope you found this article, “Sleep and Weight Loss: The Key to Fast and Permanent Results” both informative and entertaining. If you did, may we ask that you share it with your friends and family through social media. It really helps us a lot and is greatly appreciated!