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Losing Weight in Your Sleep

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Losing Weight in Your Sleep: How Good Sleep Habits are Vital to Good Health

This is Part 1 of a 2 Part article.
Losing weight can be incredibly difficult. From 8:00 AM jogs to less than appetizing diets, shedding pounds certainly takes some sacrifice. But what if you were told that one of the most crucial components of weight loss is getting the proper amount of sleep each night? Study after study is showing this to be the case, and the evidence is mounting up in favor of good sleeping habits leading to better physical and mental health, even—and especially—when weight loss is the goal. We’ve always known that sleep is vital. It’s ingrained in us that if we don’t get the proper amount of rest for an extended period of time, our health will suffer. What we are learning now, though, is just how important a role sleep plays in so many aspects of our health. Lack of sleep has been shown to increase risk for a wide variety of diseases and disorders, including high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, insulin resistance, and obesity.

What Happens When We Sleep?

If a lack of sleep can cause all of these issues, what goes on in our sleep that prevents them? It turns out, the answer is quite a bit. While it may not feel like we are doing very much when we are snoozing, our bodies are incredibly busy. There are five stages of sleep. During the first two stages, our bodies are simply relaxing and drifting into deeper and deeper sleep. During the third and fourth stages, blood supply to our muscles increases, aiding in tissue growth and repair, energy is restored to our cells, and a variety of essential hormones are released, including growth hormones, appetite control hormones, insulin, and melatonin. The fifth stage of sleep is known as REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep. We spend about 25% of the night in this stage, cycling in and out of it in 90 minute periods. REM sleep is where we experience dreams, but it’s also the stage where energy is provided to the brain and our daytime performance is bolstered. When we first go to sleep, the hormone cortisol dips in order to let us drift off, but over the night is slowly restored, so that by the time we wake we are fully alert again. This is one of the primary reasons why not getting a full night’s sleep can leave you more tired and less alert than when you first went to bed. Between restoring energy to our body and brain, repairing and building muscles, and releasing vital hormones, there is plenty of critical process that happen when we close our eyes. When we don’t get enough sleep however, many of these things never get the chance to happen. We aren’t, asleep long enough to spend an adequate amount of time in REM sleep, and, in some instances, may not be asleep long enough to ever enter the third and fourth stages at all. As you might imagine, missing out on these things can be detrimental to your health.

 Sleep Habits and Weight Loss

As mentioned, your sleep habits can greatly affect your ability to lose weight, acting either as an aid or a drawback depending on how healthy these habits are. When you are asleep, the appetite control hormones leptin and ghrelin are released. Both of these hormones play critical roles in regulating your appetite and are used to signal the brain whether your body needs an increase or a decrease in caloric intake. In people who are overweight or obese, these hormones will signal to the brain that no food is needed, killing the appetite of the person. It’s our body’s way of keeping us from overeating when we really don’t need it. Without an adequate amount of sleep, though, these hormones are never released. Appetite control—one of the biggest challenges faced by those trying to lose weight—is therefore made magnitudes more difficult by not getting as much sleep as we should. Insufficient sleep has also been found to be a cause of insulin resistance. When our bodies become resistant to insulin, glucose in the bloodstream is unable to move into our cells to be converted to energy and instead stays in the bloodstream where it can cause a host of medical problems, including weight gain. Lastly, a lack of sleep can lead to a major reduction in both physical and mental energy levels, making it much more difficult to exercise. Thanks to all of these factors, getting the right amount of sleep should be one of the most important objectives in your weight loss program.

When Enough is Enough

If enough sleep is beneficial to weight loss, is more than enough sleep even better? The simple answer is no. In fact, it can actually work the opposite way. Eight hours of sleep is the recommended amount for most adults. Sleeping very long past that mark, however, has been shown to cause weight gain rather than further decreasing it. It’s equally important to get your eight hours of sleep in a continuous stretch rather than in several chunks, meaning that for your overall health, a full night of sleep is much better than an inadequate night’s sleep followed by an afternoon nap. That's enough for now...if I give you more, you will probably fall asleep on me :)  Part Two will give you some strategies.

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