Help_Weight_LossThe most important thing you can do for weight loss is something you should be doing everyday. It doesn’t cost a dime. It just takes some commitment, perhaps a bit of planning, and definitely some time. Your body does it naturally everyday anyway. In fact, for many people, teenagers especially, it’s their favorite activity, yet most adults never seem to get enough.

Can you guess what it is?

Nope, not exercise, not eating right, though both of those are important, too.

It’s sleeping!

The rise in obesity has tracked with the rise in electronic devices per person, which have both tracked with a decline in sleep. Perhaps there is more than just a correlation here.

Whether it’s due to technology, work schedules, or something else, Americans are sleeping less, and suffering for it. According to the CDC, most adults get less than 6 hours of sleep per night, despite 7-8 being necessary. This puts them at risk for obesity(!), diabetes, cancer, and more.

Impact of sleep (or lack thereof) on weight

SleepResearchers at Case Western Reserve University tracked women over 16 years and found that the less sleep a woman got, the more likely she was to put on more pounds over time. Women sleeping less than 5 hours per night gained more weight than those sleeping 6 hours, who gained more weight than those sleeping at least 7 hours.

To understand why this phenomenon occurred, researchers at the University of Texas studied 16 adults over a 2 week period. They found that when sleep deprived, the subjects tended to expend more energy, but that was more than made up for by consuming additional calories–at night after dinner–and that women were most susceptible to overeating at night, which resulted in weight gain. (Did you read that? If you’re a sleep-deprived woman, snacking after dinner is an easy trap to fall into.)  The satiety and hunger hormones, leptin and ghrelin are also thought to play a role. But, there was some good news, “transitioning from an insufficient to adequate/recovery sleep schedule decreased energy intake, especially of fats and carbohydrates, and led to weight loss.”

In a controlled study of weight loss, sleep duration and reduced stress levels were among the biggest predictors of weight loss. And that’s what I keep saying, it’s more than just food or exercise–lifestyle and habits matter!

While sleeping ‘enough’ is associated with the best weight loss outcomes, sleeping too much can also lead to weight gain according to this study. Those sleeping 9-10 hours per night were 25% more likely to gain weight over the long term, as compared to ‘average’ duration sleepers (7-8 hours).

Let’s just clarify this, if you’re now going to commit to improving your sleep for better weight loss (among other benefits). If you’re chronically sleep deprived and want to move toward “adequate,” a few nights of sleeping more than 9 hours to recover your sleep debt is not going to send you into the sleeping-too-much-weight-gain category. So, go, sleep as much as you need for about a week, even if that’s more than 9 hours, then get into the habit of 7-8 hours of sleep per night to optimize your sleep-aided weight loss.

There you have it–why sleep is so important to your waistline, and to your health. Getting to bed at a reasonable hour can be challenging with work, family responsibilities, so much media to consume, and everything else that goes on in our lives. But making the commitment and following through with the focused effort is the only way to start.

This is me, giving you permission to stop reading, cleaning, worrying, or watching TV, and go to bed early tonight. Sleep well!