Think weight loss and the first things that come to mind are dieting and exercise. But have you tried sleeping to lose weight?
It may not sound logical because people who are overweight and obese are often associated with sedentary lifestyles, which means a lot of lazing around and sleeping. Yet, there is science to show that sleeping can actually help you lose weight.
Various studies show that people who get less sleep every night are more likely to put on weight compared to those who sleep more.
Generally, it makes sense that you would be eating less if you are fast asleep. But there’s more to it that meets the eye.
The quality of sleep matters as much as the hours of sleep you get. Those with sleep apnoea actually report losing weight naturally when their sleep disorder is corrected, without dietary or lifestyle changes.
A body that is sleep-deprived messes up the hormones. When you don’t get enough sleep, a hormone known as ghrelin (that is responsible for triggering appetite) is increased, while another hormone known as leptin (that informs the brain that you are full) is decreased.
This means you just can’t seem to stop eating because you feel hungry all the time, and have lost the sensation of being full.
In the daytime, the body produces other hormones known as adenosine, dopamine, serotonin and norepinephrine, which act as neurotransmitters that send messages to the brain to keep you awake and energised.
When dusk descends, the production of these hormones slow down, and the body starts releasing another hormone called melatonin instead.
Melatonin, the sleep hormone, sends out signals that the day is ending and that it is time to end the day.
Melatonin is affected by light and age – production of melatonin slows down in the daytime when the sun is in the sky, and speeds up in the evening when the sun is setting.
However, with electricity, we can now have light all day long, which disrupts melatonin cycles.
In order for deep sleep to happen, darkness is required. People who work around the clock are found to be at higher risk of depression because of the lack of sleep, which then translates into binge-eating and unhealthy lifestyle habits such as alcohol consumption.
And in case you are not aware, wine and beer are high in calories too!
Sleep deprivation makes you tired during the day, influencing your decision-making abilities, such as your choice of food and lifestyle.
This usually means choosing not to exercise (parking the car closest to the door or bumming in front of the television after dinner instead of going for a walk outside) and to eat comfort foods that are low in nutrients and high in sugar and calories.
Let’s say you only get three to four hours light sleep instead of the seven to eight hours of deep sleep required for muscle relaxation, blood pressure regulation, tissue repair and cell growth.
In response, the body will quickly start to produce cortisol, a stress hormone, to keep the body awake and alert despite disrupting the entire hormonal cycle. This is what keeps some people working for extraordinarily long hours, no thanks to coffee that keeps the body artificially alert.
Occasional episodes probably will not do much harm as you can catch up on your sleep after the deadlines are over. However, high levels of cortisol in the body over a prolonged period may result in high blood pressure, heart disease and weight gain.
Firstly, take note that I’m not suggesting you sleep all the time and expect to wake up with a slim, sexy body the next day. What I’m saying is that most people are really not getting enough sleep, which may be the real reason why they are perpetually battling weight gain.
So how much sleep is enough? A working adult will need seven and a half hours of sleep every night to be properly rested.
Deep sleep cycles take 90 minutes to complete, and we need five cycles every night.
However, not everyone will need the same amount of sleep. The older you are, the less sleep you need, although you will still need good quality sleep for the body processes to work well.
To sleep and manage your weight better, practise good sleeping habits, such as removing all gadgets and electrical and electronic items from the bedroom at night.
Don’t charge your gadgets in the bedroom, as the blinking lights can trick melatonin into thinking it is already daytime.
Allow some wind-down time of 15-20 minutes every night with reading, meditation or just resting.
Avoid watching television, reading your emails or exercising, which might stimulate your brain and affect deep sleep.
If you have trouble sleeping, drink a glass of milk or eat a banana or almonds, which contain natural sleep-promoting substances.
Alcohol may help you fall sleep, but it causes you to wake up in the night, which does not help in deep sleep.
Don’t overdo it, however. A study on twins conducted by the University of Washington Medicine Sleep Centre in 2012 show that sleeping more than nine hours every night is linked to obesity, diabetes, headaches, and heart disease.
Excessive sleeping is often found to be caused by medication intake or a lack of good quality sleep, rather than constant fatigue.
Keep a consistent bedtime and stick to it even during holidays or weekends, because inconsistent sleeping hours will also make you eat more and gain weight more easily.
Know your body and set your internal clock accordingly. Good night!
> Datuk Dr Nor Ashikin Mokhtar is a consultant obstetrician & gynaecologist (FRCOG, UK). For further information, visit primanora.com. The information provided is for educational and communication purposes only and it should not be construed as personal medical advice. Information published in this article is not intended to replace, supplant or augment a consultation with a health professional regarding the reader’s own medical care. The Star does not give any warranty on accuracy, completeness, functionality, usefulness or other assurances as to the content appearing in this column. The Star disclaims all responsibility for any losses, damage to property or personal injury suffered directly or indirectly from reliance on such information.