Recently, I was talking to a client who had tried to lose weight on his own but with little success. He was following a healthy diet, drinking three litres of water daily and exercising regularly. For all intents and purposes, he was leading a healthy lifestyle. So where was he going wrong?
A few minutes into the conversation, I figured out the problem. He wasn’t getting enough sleep. The reason for this was the fact that he works at a call centre and would get home at the crack of dawn and hit the bed immediately. He would wake up by 5:00 PM have dinner and rush back to work. Dinner would be his heaviest meal of the day, followed by several cups of coffee to help him stay awake through the night. Two years of the same routine and he is now suffering from severe acidity and weight gain.
People often give all the needed attention and more to a proper diet and workout, while ignoring the fact that getting the required amount of sleep is equally important when it comes to weight loss and good health. Studies have shown there’s a link between how much people sleep and how much they weigh.
These are some of the reasons why sleep deprivation can lead to weight gain:
- It disrupts the balance of key hormones that control appetite: Ghrelin and leptin are two hormones that shape our appetite and hunger signals. Ghrelin is the ‘go’ hormone that tells you when to eat, while leptin tells you when you need to stop eating. Levels of ghrelin decrease at night because your body is not required to generate a lot of energy while you sleep as compared to when you are awake. Leptin levels increase, telling your brain that there is no need to trigger hunger pangs.
- However, people who don’t sleep enough, or are sleep deprived, end up with too much ghrelin in their system. The body is ‘fooled’ into thinking that it is hungry and needs more calories. Simultaneously, there is also a decrease in leptin levels, which can leave you feeling hungry perpetually. As a result of more ghrelin and less leptin, one ends up gaining weight.
- Insulin resistance is a common side effect: A study by Cedars-Sinai Medical Center shows that a single night of sleep deprivation can cause as much insulin resistance as six months on a high-fat diet. This leaves you feeling tired and hungry more often than you should, which makes you reach out for more food, resulting in a calorie surplus.
- Stress levels are heightened: The more sleep-deprived you are, the higher your levels of the stress hormone cortisol will be, which causes water retention and increases your appetite. You are likely to make poor food choices at this time, because your body tries to produce serotonin to calm you down, when you are stressed, and the easiest way to do that is by eating high-fat, high-carb foods.
- Metabolism slows down: Lack of sleep leaves you too tired to exercise. As a result of which your body burns fewer calories in the form of energy.
So how do you ensure you get enough sleep?
On an average, the body needs around 7-8 hours of sleep daily. To ensure you get enough shut-eye for your body to function optimally, you should
- Avoid caffeine or caffeinated drinks after 3 pm: Caffeine is a stimulant and is disruptive to good sleep.
- Drink a glass of milk before sleeping: Milk contains an amino acid called tryptophan which relaxes you when you go to sleep.
- Turn off your electronic gadgets after 9.30-10 pm: The light emitted by screens on mobile phones, computers, tablets and TVs restrain the production of melatonin, the hormone that controls your sleep/wake cycle or circadian rhythm. They also keep your brain alert and this can disturb your slumber.
- Have an early dinner: A late meal stimulates your system instead of calming it.
- Drink more water throughout the day: Don’t worry your body will not retain the water, you only need to ensure that your body is hydrated
- Increase your water intake throughout the day: Dehydration, which is the leading cause of daytime fatigue, can also disrupt your sleep patterns. Water makes up about 60% of your body, 75% in your muscles, and 85% in your brain and is essential for every bodily function, including sleeping.
- Avoid exercising late at night: While there are two schools of thought about this, in my experience, people who exercise at around 9-10 pm tend to suffer from disturbed sleep. Given their heightened metabolism, they indulge in a heavy dinner, which can lead to acidity and bloating the next morning.
If your job disrupts your sleep patterns, you can maintain your weight by eating right
If you’re in a profession that disrupts your chances of a healthy sleeping pattern, tweaking your routine and modifying your diet can help keep your weight in check and leave you feeling healthier.
People who work night shifts tend to come home in the morning and head straight to bed. As a result, they have only two meals every day. Instead, they should have a proper breakfast before they sleep in order to complete their food cycle for the day. I’d recommend a protein-rich breakfast – milk and bread, or eggs and bread, or any other protein. After lunch at 4 pm, they should have an early dinner and carry protein and fiber-rich snacks from home to avoid binging on carbs and fried food, which is generally available in most office canteens. Most importantly, avoid caffeine and drink lots of water to avoid constipation and acid reflux.
By managing your food better, you can lose weight even when your work challenges your sleep patterns.