How much sleep did you get last night? There’s a good chance you didn’t get as much as you need.
You may think the only consequence of this is feeling grumpy and tired today, but if you’re a bit heavier than you’d like to be, your lack of sleep may be responsible for the belly you’re fighting to get rid of. Although a bad diet and a lack of exercise are the usual suspects blamed for weight gain, inadequate sleep can play a major role as well.
It’s easy to underestimate the role sleep plays in our lives, but we shouldn’t; after all, we spend one third of our lives sleeping, so it must be pretty important.
Thankfully, we don’t have to guess—the research conclusively shows that sleep is a big determinant of our health. Furthermore, as unlikely as it may seem, it also plays a big role in how much we weigh as well.
Why Sleep Matters
Every night when you’re asleep, your body is busy repairing itself from all the wear and tear you subjected it to during the day. You may think you’re getting stronger when you work out, but in actuality, you’re getting stronger when you sleep, as this is when your levels of growth hormone increase.
Just as growth hormone is supposed to increase when you’re sleeping, there’s also supposed to be a decrease in another hormone called corticotropin-releasing factor. It’s basically a message sent from your brain that tells your adrenal glands to chill out so you can relax and go to sleep.
Sleep is also where we consolidate learning and form new neural connections. If you’re learning throughout the day, a lot of that is consolidated when you sleep.
Unfortunately, the breakneck pace of modern life means that we get a lot less sleep than we used to. The National Institutes of Health recommends that we get seven to nine hours of sleep a night, and that getting less sleep than that has been associated with numerous health problems. Unfortunately, the NIH also reports that one third of Americans get less than the recommended minimum of seven hours of sleep a night.
There are two other important hormones that are affected by the onset of sleep: melatonin, the “sleep” hormone, and cortisol, the “stress” hormone.
With the onset of nighttime and sleep, melatonin rises, while cortisol decreases. It’s the inverse in the morning. We humans have been wired this way as long as we’ve been in existence. However, late nights on the computer or in front of the television can disrupt this delicate cycle, and as a result, many of us no longer get the quality of sleep we require. In fact, the NIH also reports that 50 – 70 million Americans are suffering from sleep or wakefulness disorders.
What this all means is that many of us are not getting adequate sleep and are struggling with health problems that might be simply addressed by sleeping more. One of these problems is weight gain.
How Sleep Affects Your Weight
Sleep is so important to the regulation of your hormones. If you’re not getting adequate sleep, those crucial hormones can go awry very easily, and weight gain can quickly follow. For example:
- Growth hormone helps burn fat and preserve lean muscle
- Excess cortisol is a big predicating factor to the development of visceral or abdominal fat
- The hormones leptin and ghrelin are responsible for triggering or shutting down hunger; if they’re out of whack, you can end up eating more.
For most people, this news comes as a shock. It also means that if you’re eating a healthy diet and working out consistently without any significant weight loss, it might be time to look at your sleep patterns. It may sound odd, but quality sleep may be the very thing you need to lose those pesky pounds!
How to Get Better Sleep
There are two important tips I share with anyone looking to get better sleep. Please don’t overlook this advice; although it’s simple, it’s also very powerful.
Tip 1: Sleep in complete darkness. Melatonin, the “sleep” hormone, is triggered by darkness. Therefore if you sleep with your curtains open, your neighbors’ outside light might be affecting the quality of your sleep. Even the brightness of your nightlight or alarm clock might be a factor. To combat this, eliminate all light sources in your bedroom and invest in some dark curtains. Ideally, you want your bedroom to mimic a cold, dark cave; it will help you get some of the best sleep you’ve ever experienced.
Tip 2: Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. I’ve learned to never underestimate the power of a consistent sleep schedule. It’s one of the most impactful changes I’ve made to my daily routine, as it establishes a reliable circadian rhythm and hormonal cycle. The result is better rest and more alertness during the day. You also get bonus points if you go to sleep and wake up while it’s still dark outside. I recommend this to everyone.
Remember, the most important thing is to make sure you’re getting the recommended amount of sleep every night — seven to nine hours. Doing this alone will make a substantial impact on both your sleeping and waking life. What’s more, it will translate to all kinds of health benefits, especially your ability to lose weight.
I hope this has helped you realize just how important sleep is. If you’re eager to learn more about how important sleep is, be sure to pick up a copy of my upcoming book The All-Day Fat-Burning Diet when its released this December. You can pre-order by clicking on the image below.
Yuri Elkaim is one of the world’s most trusted health and fitness experts. A former pro soccer player turned NYT bestselling author of The All-Day Energy Diet and The All-Day Fat Burning Diet, his clear, science-backed advice has transformed the lives of more than 500,000 men and women and he’s on a mission to help 100 million people by 2040. Read his inspiring story, “From Soccer to Bed to No Hair on My Head” that started it all.