40% of Americans get an average of six hours of sleep or less every night. Unfortunately, a bad attitude and bags under the eyes aren’t the only side-effects you can get from a lack of rest, evidence suggests that missing out on sleep can lead to weight gain.
If you spend most of the day feeling exhausted, you’ll be more likely to reach for a sugar-rich cup of coffee or an unhealthy snack as a way of grabbing some emergency energy. Unfortunately, these little pick-me-ups are only temporary, and later you may still be tempted to skip the gym, or switch a healthy meal for a convenient takeout. All of these bad behaviors add up towards a rapidly expanding waist line.
What’s more, aside from encouraging bad habits, a lack of sleep can mean that you burn less calories, store more fat, and experience less of the hormones that you need to remind your brain that you’re full after a meal. Together, these issues contribute to the fact that researchers at Columbia University found that people sleeping less than seven hours a night have a harder time losing weight, gain more weight over time, and are often heavier in general.
Following are just some of the ways that a better sleep pattern could help to improve your weight loss results.
1. A Dose of the Right Hormones
According to the director of the Sleep Medicine Program at New York University – David Rapoport, your hormones are affected by how much you sleep. When you suffer from too little sleep, or interrupted rest, then your leptin levels fall – meaning that your brain doesn’t get the message that your stomach is full. At the same time, your ghrelin levels start to build, making you feel hungry and ensuring you are more likely to overeat.
2. No More Late-Night Snacks
The more time you spend awake, the more calories you are likely to consume. As we stay up late watching movies, we often spend time snacking on food that we don’t need – enough to help us gain anywhere up to two pounds a week. A study from the University of Pennsylvania found that over seven days, subjects with restricted sleep gained more weight than well-rested participants, mostly because they ate a significant amount of calories after 11pm – a time when the other group were already asleep.
3. Sleep Encourages Fat Loss
Most people don’t realize that even if they’re eating the exact same foods as their friend – if they don’t get the right amount of sleep for their body, they won’t be able to get rid of as much fat. In fact, studies have compared the weight-loss results of individuals who sleep eight hours a night with those sleeping only five and a half hours each night. In both conditions, the participants ate the same number of calories, and while both groups lost about 6 and a half pounds, more than half of that amount was made up of fat for the well-rested group, compared to only 25% for the tired participants.
4. More Sleep Means More Calories Burned
After a good night’s sleep, you’ll automatically have more energy to take on the challenges of the day ahead. What’s more, your body will be capable of running at optimal function, meaning that you’re more likely to torch larger amounts of calories – even if you aren’t working out. According to information given by the American Journal of Nutrition, well-rested individuals burn a higher amount of calories when resting than their tired counterparts.
5. Sleep Helps You to Focus
Finally, it’s important to recognize that your brain functions differently when you don’t sleep properly. Researchers from Harvard Medical School have performed scans on people with lower levels of daytime energy and found less energy in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex – the part of the brain that is associated with behavior control and inhibition. When you’re tired, and your inhibitions are low, you’re more likely to overeat, or indulge in treats that you would avoid when well-rested.
What’s more, sleepiness can even change your response to food, by changing activity in the insular cortex – the area responsible for regulating pleasure-seeking behavior. In other words, skipping sleep could make it much more difficult to avoid a trip to the vending machine.
Marc Dressen, MSc
Personal Trainer in London
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