Quality Sleep: The Missing Component in Your Diet

When people go on a diet, they typically focus on two main areas: what they eat and their level of activity. What this formula leaves out, however, is the critical factor of sleep. Although many of us think of sleep as an inactive period, sleep is vital to many bodily systems and hormonal fluctuations connected to metabolism, and hunger can be significantly affected if you’re getting insufficient sleep.

If you’re on a diet and struggling to lose weight, it’s time to pay more attention to your sleep. Grabbing a few more hours and focusing on improved sleep quality can help you break through weight loss plateaus.

Sleep and Hormones

Most of us think of the amount of time we have to sleep each night as somewhat flexible, but your body has an optimal amount – typically between 7 and 9 hours. Depending on what your personal sleep rhythms are, getting as little as 30 minutes too little sleep per weeknight can significantly increase your risk of obesity and diabetes. That’s about two and a half hours under your recommended amount over the course of the week, and that kind of deficit can add up quickly.

Why does this happen? After all, if you’re awake, aren’t you more likely to be moving around and burning calories? In fact, what really happens when you’re not sleeping enough is that your body produces too much ghrelin and too little leptin. Ghrelin is a hormone that signals to your body that you’re feeling hungry, while leptin is linked to satiety. When you’re not sleeping enough, your body seeks more calories, and sleep deprived individuals often end up consuming as much as 300 calories extra each day.

Sleepy Eating

Not only do people typically consume more calories when they’re not sleeping enough, but those calories tend to be among the least healthy. When you’re sleepy and stressed, you’re more likely to reach for high fat and sugar foods, things we consider comfort foods. Couple that with a slowed down metabolism – your body doesn’t use calories as efficiently when you’re sleep deprived – and you’ve got a recipe for diet disaster.

Sleeping More, Sleeping Better

What can you do to get more sleep? The first step may be stepping outside of a culture that celebrates a lack of sleep. Many professionals even brag about how little sleep they function on, as though going without this necessary bodily function is an achievement to be praised. When we shift our perspective from one that views sleep as a weakness to a view that recognizes the health benefits of sleep and its importance in our lives, we take the first step towards better sleep habits.

One way that even the most restless individuals can improve their sleep habits is by creating a bedtime routine. This can be as complex or low maintenance as you like, as long as you make a habit of doing the same things each night as you prepare for bed. Sleep guru Arianna Huffington, for example, takes a relaxing bath, then puts on pajamas (not just repurposed day clothes), and has a cup of tea before turning off her electronics and turning in for the night. Your bedtime routine can be much simpler than this, as long as it allows you to set aside your worries and get some rest.

Don’t underestimate how much of an impact your electronic devices are having on your sleep. Although some devices have started changing their settings to eliminate disruptive blue light, the particular types of light emitted by many electronics can interfere with the release of melatonin and disrupt your natural circadian rhythms. By turning off devices as bedtime approaches, you can help keep your natural sleep cycles in tune.

It’s also important to go to sleep and get up at the same time every day, including on the weekends. When you maintain a regular schedule, your body doesn’t overcompensate for sleep debt on the weekends, and your body acclimates more quickly to the schedule. You’ll find that it doesn’t take long after starting such a practice that your body demands to go to sleep at a regular time and doesn’t need an alarm clock in the morning.

When we resist sleeping or struggle to create good sleep habits, not only do we make weight loss more difficult, but we also cause ourselves unnecessary stress that can impact factors like heart health and mental focus and acuity. Our bodies are served by sleep – it refreshes and heals, helps maintain our immune systems, and allows the body to process and integrate what we’ve learned during the day.

In a culture that shrugs off the importance of sleep, we can care for ourselves by being rebels and getting some rest.