Sleep plays a vital role in the healthy functioning of our body and, therefore, lack of it can result in several health issues such as diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, impaired cognitive ability, and mental health disorders, among others. But, did you know that sleep also has a direct link to weight loss? “Numerous studies have suggested that restricted sleep and poor sleep quality may lead to metabolic disorders, weight gain, and an increased risk of obesity and other chronic health conditions,” according to sleepfoundation.org.
A 2022 study, presented at European Congress on Obesity (ECO), highlighted that not getting enough good quality sleep undermines people’s attempts to keep weight off after dieting, and argues that about two hours of robust physical activity per week can help support better sleep. “Adults who aren’t sleeping enough or getting poor quality sleep after weight loss appear less successful at maintaining weight loss than those with sufficient sleep.” Dr Signe Torekov, the study lead, told Medical News Today.
Agreeing, Dr Jugendra Singh, Senior Consultant – Respiratory and Sleep Medicine, Medanta Lucknow said that lack of energy and sleepiness or fatigue are often combatted by caffeine and sugar, leading to weight gain and less exercise. But, why does that happen? As per physiological studies, the two hormones – ghrelin and leptin – are to be blamed. “Ghrelin is the hormone that tells you when to eat, and when you are sleep deprived, you have more ghrelin. Leptin is the hormone that tells you to stop eating, and when you are sleep deprived, you have less leptin,” he explained.
As such, sleeping for inadequate hours tend to increase hunger in adults, particularly for calorie-dense foods, which are high in carbohydrates, according to Dr Navneet Sood, Senior consultant and clinical lead, Pulmonary, Dharamshila Narayana Superspeciality Hospital. “Another effect could be that sleep deprivation produces fatigue, which leads to decreased physical activity that directly affects weight gain and loss,” he added.
Cortisol or the stress hormone is another responsible factor behind weight gain due to sleep deprivation. Explaining, Dr Sood said, “Cortisol is responsible for our body’s natural ability to get up in the morning and fall asleep at night. It is at its highest just before waking up and gradually decreases during the day until it reaches its lowest at night (indicating to the body that it is time to sleep). Cortisol levels do not fall as they should during the day when we do not get adequate sleep. When our cortisol levels are elevated for an extended time, our bodies are signalled to store fat and use muscle for energy.”
How many hours should you sleep?
To aid weight loss, it is recommended to sleep for 7-8 hours, experts say. “Continuous sleep of 7-8 hours is beneficial as it makes you feel energetic, thereby, acting as a motivational tool for indulging in a physical activity which is directly related to weight loss. Also, sleeping early reduces the chances of late night snacking on junk food/ high fat and carbs snacks,” dietitian Upasana Sharma, Head Nutritionist, Max Hospital, Gurugram said.
Agreeing, Dr Sood added that sleeping for seven to nine hours is recommended so that your body heals appropriately. It helps “prevent obesity, and keep cortisol levels from becoming too high – one of the more obvious causes of weight gain and muscle loss”.
Can weight gain affect your sleep?
Now that it’s established that your sleep can aid or hamper your weight loss journey, it’s crucial to note that the converse stands true, too. “Morbid obesity leads to obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) syndrome which leads to further poor quality and further weight gain,” Dr Singh said.
Dr Sood added: “Excess fat works as insulation and padding for your body. It is obvious when it results in a larger stomach, a fuller face, enlarged hips, or more prominent buttocks. This crowding, combined with additional weight pressing from the outside, such as a bigger neck or stomach, causes the airway to collapse and cause complications.”
Sleeping tips for healthy weight loss
Here are some essential ways that can help you sleep better and promote weight loss, according to Sharma.
“Turn off your computer, cell phone, and television at least an hour before going to bed and create a bedtime ritual for a better quality of sleep,” Dr Sood added.
Dr Singh stressed that one’s bedroom should be primarily for sleep to get a restful slumber. “Avoid excessive eating and weight gain, OSA patients should apply CPAP medical device for good quality of sleep, and avoid excessive stress,” he suggested.
(Next in the series: What is the right direction to sleep?)