Could sleep be your secret to weight loss?
Posted by Dr Robert Buist in Weight Loss posted:

Could sleep be your secret to weight loss?

Feeling tired? Well you’re not alone..did you know around 33-45% of Australians presently don’t get enough sleep. (1)

Sleep is a very important factor when considering weight loss, something that scientists around the world are coming to acknowledge.

Research is exploring the links between hormones and appetite regulators, both of which impact metabolism. In particular, lack of sleep is associated with a decrease in the body’s natural appetite suppressant, leptin, and an increase in the hunger hormone, ghrelin, which is found in the stomach. A lack of sleep makes a person hungrier for carbohydrates, especially the refined and sugary variety (think pastries, burgers and cakes), which is fast way to sabotage weight loss journey.

With less sleep our bodies go into energy conservation mode. We eat more food but our ability to burn fat calories decreases by up to 10%. We then tend to burn lean muscle for energy rather than fat. Combine this with poor food choices a tired person is likely to make, and you have a recipe for weight gain and slowed weight loss.

Let’s look at some of the statistical evidence coming through. For example, in one Wisconsin Sleep Study involving 1,024 men and women it was shown that low levels of sleep resulted in a 15.5% drop in leptin and a 14.9% increase in ghrelin. These researchers suggest that sleep deprivation leads to an increased consumption of 350-550 more Kcals each day. (2)

A fluctuation in dietary calories of 300-550/day is equivalent to a weight variation of 0.5-1.00 kg per week. If your having multiple days a week with insufficient sleep those calories each day quickly add up.

Another study carried out at the University of Chicago showed that participants who slept for only 5.5 hours had a 55% reduced fat loss compared to those who slept for 8.5 hours. (3)

Do you have any idea how many hours sleep your grandparents got? Apparently, it was around 8.5 hours. In those days the obesity rate was 13%.

In general adults require 7-9 hours sleep each night. (4) How many of us don’t reach this goal? Research suggests we now sleep an average of 6.5 hours. In other words, we now sleep 2 hours less than our grandparents. Our current obesity rates are around 33%. Could this be a major factor in the current increased prevalence of obesity?

Sleep impacts all aspects of health. For example, short sleepers (less than 6 hours per night) are three times as likely to develop a condition which leads to diabetes and heart disease. (5) Less sleep is linked to a decreased ability to metabolise glucose of around 40%, leaving a high amount of glucose in the blood. (6)

Stress levels from not sleeping properly also cause a rise in cortisol. Couple this with insulin that does not work properly, and you have a recipe for increased fat deposits around the middle of the body. (7)

The immune system is also compromised with less sleep. Natural killer cell activity can drop by up to 50% leaving us more vulnerable to infections like colds and flu. We become 3-5 times more likely to get a cold. (8)

Motivation, decision-making and will power also drop with insufficient sleep. A negative mood makes facing the challenge of weight loss more difficult.

So what can you do to help get a better nights sleep?

In general, to prepare for a good night’s sleep you should turn off all electronic devices including ipads, laptops, computers, TV and any sources of blue light around one hour before bed. Dim the lights to signal the body to start producing the sleep-inducing hormone, melatonin When nature begins to dim the light outside…you should try to do the same inside.

To help the body get ready for sleep you can also have a hot bath; listen to relaxing music. If there is anything on your mind that is likely to prevent you from sleeping write it down on a notepad to attend to in the morning.

You have already heard me talk about the usefulness of taking sleep-inducing herbs and minerals such as lemon balm, passionflower, and magnesium and also the stress-relieving effect of lactium. These can be taken half an hour before bed.

So while there is much that you can do ensure a good night’s sleep, remember that there can also be many medical reasons for sleep problems. These include sleep apnoea, enlarged prostate, arthritis, chronic pain, menopause symptoms, gastrointestinal problems such as reflux, asthma and many others which should be addressed by discussing them with your health practitioner.

Just finally, much of the research mentioned above can be found in a fabulous little book written by an Australian sleep research scientist, Dr Carmel Harrington. The book is called The Sleep Diet (Pan Macmillan 2012). It is full of references to all the above-mentioned trials and other interesting facts about sleep.


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Dr Robert Buist

Wheyless Formulator

Wheyless was formulated for Fit-BioCeuticals Limited by Nutritional Biochemist Dr Robert Buist PhD.

Dr Buist has a degree in Biochemistry from the University of NSW and a PhD in Medicinal Chemistry and Pharmacology from Macquarie University in Sydney. He is one of Australia's leading experts in weight loss.