Sleep either seems to be underrated or desperately needed. If you feel attracted by the stories and information I’ve been sharing, I’m probably not far off guessing that you fall into the later category.

You’re either not getting enough sleep because you have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep (or because you have young children keeping you up at night) or the quality of your sleep is not good. You don’t feel refreshed in the morning (even after 7 or 8 hours of sleep), feel sluggish all day or experience extreme afternoon sleepiness. Your thinking gets slower or less effective and before you know it you fuel your energy with sweet, high-carb snacks and drinking coffee or energy drinks. Can you see it coming how your sleep can have an effect on your weight …

It’s probably easy to see that when we are tired and our brain works more slowly and we make bad decisions including those about food. We crave more sugar to raise our energy level and consume a lot more poor quality calories than we would if we felt fit and full of energy. By the way, liquid calories such as energy drinks and coffee drinks are among the worst because they contain lots of sugar without even giving you the feeling of satiety.

What’s a lot less obvious is how sleep impacts us below the surface:

  • sleep is the time our body needs to repair and rejuvenate, it’s like nutrition to the brain (including the part that controls our metabolism!)
  • sleep is crucial to regulating visceral fat, breaking it down and making fuel out of it
  • studies suggest that lack of sleep increases our hunger hormone (ghrelin) and decrease levels of our satiety hormone (leptin)
  • lack of sleep negatively impacts the part of the brain (frontal lobe) which is responsible for decision making and impulse control
  • at the same time sleep deprivation increases activity the brains reward centers looking for something that makes you feel good (sugar and refined carbs do just that to our brain)

In summary, a sleep deprived brain seems to crave poor quality, high calorie foods while it lacks the impulse control to say no. A pretty powerful double whammy!

You’ve probably felt desperate for more or better sleep even before knowing what sleep deprivation does to our body and our weight simply because you feel so tired, impatient and irritable. I’m hoping that this extra information can give you the motivation you need to break out of the vicious cycle and implement strategies to increase your sleep and/or improve the quality of your sleep.

I’ll give you a few tips here, some of which may not look obvious but I really want to encourage you to try them out for yourself

  • Shut down any screens (computer, tablet, phone, TV) at least an hour before you go to sleep.
    The light of the screens is powerful and effects our natural, internal clock suggesting to the body that it’s still day time.
  • Create a bed time ritual, for example take some time to meditate, journal or read. If you have the time, a warm bath can also be great. If you don’t have much time, you could have a sleep enhancing tea or massage your feet while listening to some relaxing music.
  • Reduce your coffee and sugar intake and don’t have coffee after 2 pm as caffeine can effect your body for many hours.
    You might not consciously be aware of the impact coffee has on your sleep, maybe you have espresso after your evening meal and no problem going to sleep. However, the caffeine might have an impact on the quality of your sleep and you won’t know until you’ve tried this.
  • Dim the lights before going to bed, darkness signals the body to release its natural sleep hormone melatonin.
  • Use essential oils that can help promote relaxation and deep sleep, e.g. lavender or orange oil (I personally use a very high quality blend of different oils)

Here is something you can do right now to improve your sleep

Take a piece of paper (or your journal if you have one, this could be a good reason to start one too) and write down how you experience your sleep and your energy levels, don’t forget to add a date to these notes. Think of things like

  • I have trouble falling asleep
  • I have trouble staying asleep
  • I do feel refreshed or I don’t feel refreshed in the morning (even after 7 or 8 hours of sleep)
  • I feel sluggish all day
  • I experience afternoon sleepiness
  • I wish I had more energy to be more patient with my children
  • I wish I had more energy to enjoy the things that are important to me
  • etc.

Then make a list of the sleep enhancing things you want to introduce and commit to them for at least 7 days. Review your journal entry after 7 days and note even the smallest changes. Find out what has the biggest impact for you and stick with it. Remember more sleep (min 7-8 hours per night) will not only make you feel a lot better during the day, it will help you reduce those unwanted pounds too.

If you have any questions, comments or experience reports I would love to hear from you in the comments below.

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Dr Alan Christianson, Sleep and Weight
WebMD, Sleep More, Weight Less, A single night of sleep deprivation increases ghrelin levels, Decision-making and impulse control after frontal lobe injuries
UC Berkeley, Sleep deprivation linked to junk food cravings