We are forever hearing about the importance of sleep for health and wellbeing but did you know that bad sleep blocks weight loss? I KNOW. It seems like everything can affect how easily we lose weight but I think that should be comforting rather than frustrating.
If you are struggling to lose weight despite “doing it all the right way”, know that it might be something you don’t even consider linked to weight loss. So how does bad sleep block weight loss?
Why we need sleep
Well actually science is a little hazy about sleep. We know some things for sure like the different stages of sleep and the biological processes that happen when we do sleep. We know that sleep is linked with memory processing, emotional stability and a process where your brain is “rinsed”. The fluid around your brain is literally cleaned while you sleep.
There are many things we don’t know about sleep. For example, we don’t know whether we sleep because these processes need to happen, or whether we evolved to carry them out while sleeping because it’s more efficient than doing them during the day. It’s a continuing mystery, for now. All we know is that if you don’t sleep, your risk of dying increases hugely at worst and at best you can have really bad side effects.
When sleep quality is bad
You know those nights when you see every hour? You feel like you’re skimming across the surface of sleep without ever really getting below the line. When you wake up the next morning, you feel like you’re running through mud. The simplest tasks feel like you’re climbing a mountain. Coffee doesn’t even touch the top of your fatigue and then there is the brain fog!
This is because your body didn’t get to do all of the tasks it normally does during sleep. Every stage, light, deep and REM, have a purpose. If, for some reason, you don’t manage to get the sleep you need in one of these stages, you will feel it the next day. You can even see the effects in your skin. It will appear puffier and more papery in texture. Fine lines are more noticeable. It impacts every part of your body.
Bad sleep makes you hungry
This is where we need to really pay attention because bad sleep blocks weight loss. One of the main ways that it does this is by driving hunger. When you don’t sleep well, your metabolism slows down. Your hunger hormone, ghrelin, increases and the hormone that signals satiety, leptin goes down. You are hungrier and so you eat more calories.
Bad sleep causes blood sugar problems
Studies have shown that bad sleep leads to problems with metabolising carbs. Just one night of bad sleep can have a huge impact on your blood sugar the next day. In one of these studies, it showed that just one night of sleep deprivation resulted in reduced glucose tolerance by 40%. If you have consistently bad sleep you lose a huge amount of tolerance for carbs.
Bad sleep blocks weight loss
So now you’re probably wondering how you can avoid lying awake a night worrying that you are awake or not sleeping properly! I get it but don’t worry. There are plenty of things you can do to make sure that you get good quality sleep. Remember that good quality is better than quantity. You want to focus on sleep quality first and then tackle quantity. This is especially true if you have young children.
5 Steps to Better Sleep
These are the quickest wins I can give you. Obviously there needs to be a deeper dive into better sleep but this will help you get started on trying to improve your sleep quality.
1. Pick a bedtime and stick with is as much as you can
Going to sleep at the same time every day reinforces your circadian rhythm and helps your body better prepare for sleep. We have a natural 24 hours circadian rhythm and your body inherently “knows” when it’s time to start making sleep hormones. But if you are pushing through or tired but wired, then your body doesn’t know when you will sleep. Going to bed at the same time helps to start training your body when to sleep.
2. Don’t eat or drink late at night
This should be obvious but many of us fall into the habit of eating a big meal late in the day. There is a very old adage that says “Breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, dinner like a pauper”. There is wisdom there. Try eating your biggest meal of the day at lunchtime if you don’t have time in the morning. However I encourage you to try to eat the largest meal first thing. You’re more insulin sensitive and studies show you’ll eat less throughout the day. This is true especially if you are prioritising protein and have healthy fats. Bacon and eggs are a winner here.
3. Unplug and switch off
Scrolling Instagram at 10pm? Screens give off blue light and blue light is a daytime light. When the sun starts to set, the spectrum of light goes from blue to orange/red/yellow. This light signals our brains that it’s time to start the job of preparing sleep hormones. If your screens are telling your brain that it’s daytime, it interrupts that process.
Get yourself some blue light blocking glasses if you really need to be on your sceen in the evening. These ones from Ocushield are my favourite and you can get 15% off if you use my affiliate link. Check them out here.
4. Create a bedtime routine
Something as simple as washing your face and your teeth and applying some moisturiser and hand cream can work wonders. It’s another way to signal to your body and brain that it’s time to sleep. It’s a Pavlovian way to link good habits with sleep. You might find after a few months that just washing your teeth in the evening makes you sleepy! This is a good thing.
5. Get some morning light
Yes, the best way to get a good night’s sleep is to see the morning light in the morning. Just 5 to 10 minutes of morning light is enough to help balance your sleep and stress hormones. This knock on effect means better sleep. If it’s cloudy, it doesn’t matter. The light will still penetrate the cloud cover, but you might need to get at least 20 minutes to benefit properly.
Here is a quick visual guide of how the whole process works. It’s easy to see how bad sleep blocks weight loss. Please feel free to screenshot the graphic and share it with your own community and friends.
Weight loss is a complex process. Human metabolism and hormonal systems and interactions are far more complicated than calories in, calories out. If your personal trainer, nutritionist or doctor is still using this outdated and frankly ignorant method, get yourself a new one who understands human physiology and metabolism.
In the meantime, come and join my FREE Facebook Group where we are working every day to fix the metabolic damage caused by following toxic diet based weight loss programs. You can read more about that here.