Good sleep is your weight loss secret ingredient

cortisol ghrelin growth hormone sleep weight loss Apr 01, 2023

 We all know we need to sleep more. We know a bad night of sleep affects us in dramatic ways. But did you know your poor sleep could be making it harder to lose weight? Sleep is one of the three "magic bullets" for weight loss (next to good nutrition and adequate movement). Read on for the science behind sleep and weight loss, and what you can do to maximize your efforts. 

Less sleep = Less growth hormone

If you have a goal to lose weight, you’ve got to get a handle on your sleep. When you don’t sleep enough (at least 7 hours per night), you don’t release adequate amounts of Growth Hormone (GH). This important hormone stimulates muscle and cellular repair, increasing lean mass and decreasing body fat. It increases the general sense of well-being, energy, bone density and improves short-term memory. It naturally declines with age, but it significantly decreases with poor sleep. 

If your overall wellness plan includes exercise (and it should), you need growth hormone from consistent nightly sleep to repair the damage. Without it, you are far more likely to injure yourself and derail your efforts. 

Less sleep = More calories

In addition to the impact on GH, poor sleep can lead to eating more calories. A 2022 study in JAMA found that overweight people who slept more (up to 8.5 hours), also decreased their caloric intake by an average of 270 calories per day. This alone could mean a loss of about 26 lbs in 3 years. 

The increased calorie consumption could be due to after-dinner snacking that is common with staying up later to watch a show. Or the fatigue caused by lack of sleep drives you to drink more caffeine, which often contains calories from milk or sugar. Also, when you don’t sleep well, you release more of the hunger hormone Ghrelin, which makes you hungrier (think Gremlins…they want the snacks!)

Bottom line, when you sleep less, you eat more.

Less sleep = More cortisol

Failing to get adequate sleep can cause your body to release more of the hormone cortisol, which further decreases GH. You may have heard of cortisol, the “stress hormone”, which is necessary to drive you to get out of bed in the morning and get going with your day. Without it, you would face debilitating fatigue. 

However, too much cortisol throughout the day causes elevated blood sugar, which drives your insulin to be too high, and can prevent you from losing weight. High cortisol also causes you to store fat in your belly and raises your blood pressure. 

If you are working hard to lose weight and getting nowhere - check your stress and sleep. If those are not dialed in, high cortisol will undermine your very best efforts. 

More sleep makes it easier to lose weight

Clearly the solution here is to sleep more. Below are some tips to consider:

  1. Set a realistic bedtime and stick to it. You can’t delay the inevitable, and your deepest, most restful sleep happens earlier in the night. Don’t worry, the show will still be there for you when you have more time, and the laundry will never leave you. Most people should be asleep by 10pm (or earlier if you wake up before 6am). 
  2. If you have trouble falling asleep, take a look at your environment. Your room should be cool (around 65F for most people), and completely dark. Artificial light exposure within 2 hours of bedtime can blunt melatonin from being released, so keep lights dim at night and try not to work on a computer within that time. If you do need to work late, blue light blocking glasses can reduce the impact to your sleep. I personally use blue light blockers from Felix Gray
  3. Mind your blood sugar. Eating sweets or snacking at night can cause blood sugar to drop in the middle of the night, which wakes you up. Try to stop eating 2-3 hours before bed.
  4. Drink less alcohol. A couple of glasses of wine might knock you out and send you to sleep quickly, but alcohol also wakes you up and prevents deep sleep later in the night.
  5. If you’re struggling to get quality sleep, I highly recommend meeting with a naturopathic doctor to rule out sleep apnea, snoring, silent reflux, or hormonal issues that need further treatment. 

Finally, if sleep apnea or snoring are known issues for you, consider a laser treatment such as Fotona Nightlase to significantly reduce vibration in your soft palate. Most people find this treatment more tolerable than CPAP.

Need more help?

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