Here’s the situation: you’ve been putting in work at the gym and eating right, but somehow you can’t seem to shake those last few pounds? What’s up? The problem might literally lie in between the sheets.
“Many studies link obesity with sleep deprivation,” explains registered dietitian and CEO of The NY Nutrition Group, Lisa Moskovitz. “Recent observations find that a lack of sufficient amount of rest (or sleep) can cause hormonal and metabolic changes, increased appetite, decreased energy, and ultimately weight gain.”
The amount of sleep (or lack thereof) plays a key role in weight management. Benefits of hitting the hay include muscle recovery, increased cortisol levels, heightened metabolism, and much more. “The two hormones that are responsible for controlling hunger and fullness are ghrelin and leptin, respectively,” shares Moskovitz.
“Without proper sleep the body starts to produce more ghrelin and less leptin—leading to increased appetite and eating more calories to feel full. In addition, not sleeping sufficiently, [these hormones] directly affects energy levels and the less energized you feel the more likely you are to grab extra snacks as a pick me up or source of quick energy to get through the day.”
Which leads us to one of the most debated topics regarding sleep, how much do you really need? Because let’s face it, clocking in 8+ hours per night seems like merely a dream to most. “While everyone is different in regards to how much sleep they need to function, most people require at least 6-8 hours to stay healthy,” she says. “Exercise, while extremely beneficial to health, can be also form of stress, or hardship, on the body, so sleep is even more important for an active person in order to fully recover in between workouts.”
Focusing on getting adequate sleep can help to regulate, ghrelin, aka the "hunger hormone" and leptin, or the "hunger-slashing hormone." In other words, if you are currently sleeping under 6 hours per night, adding in at least 1 extra hour nightly can help regulate appetite and hunger during the day, Moskovitz shares.
Two major factors to consider in regard to fall asleep include timing your gym time and meals. “In most cases, moderate exercise can improve sleep quality and the ability to sleep, however, exercising too closely to bedtime can have the opposite effect,” explains Moskovitz. She finds the body requires a certain amount “rest” time, usually at least 3-4 hours to fully relax and get the heart rate back to normal before it can be ready for sleep.
“Eating before bedtime can either help sleep or be harmful, it all depends on what you're eating and how much,” she explains. “For example, eating a large meal, especially one in heavy in fat, right before bed can make it extremely difficult to fall asleep. Not only does the body have to work hard to digest all those calories you just ate but high-fat foods require even more time to break it down in the digestion tract. The same goes for protein-rich foods,” she cautions.
If you are famished before bed, opt for a small snack no more than 200 calories to tide you over. “[Choose something that] isn't too difficult to digest but won't spike blood sugars either,” Moskovitz says. Think a slice of whole grain toast with all-natural peanut butter, 1/2 cup whole grain cereal with low-fat milk, or 1/2 cup of light yogurt with 1/2 banana. “[These options] may be just the ticket to help you easily fall into a peaceful slumber. The trick is to not be too full or hungry before bedtime.”