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It sounds like a dream come true: the key to weight loss may be to get more sleep?  

At first, it seems counterintuitive that more time spent in a physically inactive state could facilitate weight loss. Those seeking to lose weight typically focus on two things: diet and exercise.  Sleep isn’t usually even considered a factor in terms of how much weight loss can be achieved. 

However, it is important to realize that the amount and the quality of sleep directly affects both our diet and our appetites. Sleep also impacts both our energy and endurance levels. Sleep therefore increases our exercise tolerance and enhances our exercise performance results.  Sleep also directly influences one of the greatest causes of weight gain in the human body: stress levels.

Sleep less, eat more

If we were to analyze the role of sleep in our eating patterns, we would find that there is a direct correlation between overeating and poor sleep quality. Moreover, sleep deprivation also leads to overeating.  

This cycle is mediated by the hormones leptin, which signals satiety or fullness, and ghrelin, which signals hunger and triggers eating behaviors.  Sleep deprivation can lower levels of leptin and raise ghrelin levels in the body and trigger overeating. Additionally, sleep deprivation activates the activity of endocannabinoids in the brain. Endocannabinoids are molecules that cause cravings for fatty and sugary foods. Suddenly, it all makes sense why those up-all-nighters are often accompanied by pizza and donuts. 

 Sleep more, exercise better

Let’s now consider the role that sleep plays in exercise.  Getting up at 4 A.M. to hit the gym is extremely healthy, right? Well, not necessarily.  Going into exercise mode with little sleep will lower your stamina while decreasing exercise tolerance and performance.  A couple of more hours of rest might mean better stamina at the gym.  

Also, sleep is incredibly important in exercise recovery.  During sleep, your body repairs the muscles and the tissues that were strained and torn during your workout. The quality of your sleep is also important.  

According to the Cleveland Clinic, there are two stages to sleep, REM sleep and non-REM sleep which both occur in cycles of between 90 and 110 minutes.  It is during the non-REM sleep that most of the benefits of sleep are produced including muscle and tissue repair.  Interruptions to your sleep cycle might mean that you are missing out on the highest quality sleep and lessening the time spent in non-REM sleep.  

By skimping out on sleep, you are seriously hurting your recovery and making it much harder to get back to weight training the next day.  Therefore, you should always get a full night’s rest both before and after your workout regimen to reap the full benefits.

 Sleep and stress

Lastly, let’s talk about the ways that sleep deprivation causes people to gain excess weight in the first place.  It is now understood that sleep plays a critical role in reducing stress levels and increasing our tolerance to stress.  Without adequate sleep, irritability increases and focus decreases.  This leaves us far more susceptible to stress.

High levels of stress can increase the amount of cortisol in the body.  Cortisol is widely known as the stress hormone.  Cortisol can increase levels of insulin and stimulate an increase in blood sugar levels.  

While this is a normal stress response as your body needs more energy to deal with stressful situations, a prolonged stress response and increasingly high cortisol levels have many adverse effects. In addition to irritability and decreased focus, it also leads to weight gain.  Studies have also shown that it leads to an increase in fat deposits in areas that are the hardest to target around the waistline.

So while simply sleeping won’t eliminate pounds, it will certainly help.

About Katherine Vasquez

Katherine Vazquez is a freelance writer, professional artist, and educator. She has a background in medical research and psychology. Her research interests include social cognition and episodic memory function. Based on Long Island, she enjoys boating and fishing.

View all posts by Katherine Vasquez