Harness the Healing Power of Sleep for Weight Loss and Productivity

Want to lose weight AND increase your productivity? Try incorporating a nap into your daily routine.

Why does the amount of sleep a person gets affect weight? Researchers think that there are several factors involved: first, a tired child, teen or adult is not likely to have enough energy to exercise during the day. Second, tired people tend to reach for junk food to try to increase their energy levels so they can get things done. People who don’t get enough sleep burn the same number of calories per day, but eat about 300 more calories than people who sleep well. (Huget, Jennifer LaRue. “Lack of sleep could lead to weight gain.” The Washington Post. Aug. 2, 2011)ID-100308166

It may sound counterintuitive, but study after study indicates that sleep deprivation makes people prone to gaining weight — and keeping that extra weight once they have it. Not only that, but staying up late in order to work does not increase productivity — it decimates it, reducing alertness, focus, and work performance by as much as one third. Here are a few facts you may not realize about sleep deprivation:

  • Just one night of reduced sleep will hurt your performance at work or school. Staying up just an hour or an hour and a half later than your normal bedtime, according to WebMD, reduces daytime alertness and performance by as much as 32%. (Breus, Michael. “Chronic sleep deprivation may harm health.” WebMD) One reason for this is that sleep deprivation causes cognitive impairment, making it hard to remember and disrupting the brain’s ability to process new information.
  • Adults who deprive themselves of sleep are more likely to become overweight. (Likewise, people who are overweight are more likely to develop sleep problems such as sleep apnea.) Additionally, when adults experiencing sleep deprivation are placed on controlled diets and make sure to exercise regularly, they lose more pounds of muscle and lose fewer pounds of fat than adults on the exact same diet/exercise regimen who get plenty of sleep. In a 2010 University of Chicago/University of Wisconsin-Madison study, researchers allowed one study group to receive 5.5 hours of sleep per night, while another group received 8.5 hours of sleep. Both groups tried to lose weight, eating the same foods and doing the same exercise routines, but the group that was short on sleep lost significantly more muscle mass and less fat than the group that slept well. (Carollo, Kim. “Losing sleep over not losing weight? That could be the problem.” ABC News. Oct. 5, 2010.)
  • Children who sleep less are also more likely to become overweight. According to a 2008 Montreal study, 26% of young children (between the ages of 2 and 6) who sleep less than ten hours per night are overweight. Only 10% of children who sleep at least 11 hours per night are overweight. (“26 percent of sleepless children become overweight,” Science Daily, Nov. 27, 2008) An earlier study, done at Northwestern University in 2007, showed that the same was true of older children: 6th-graders who slept less than nine hours per night had a 23% obesity rate, while their classmates who slept more than nine hours nightly had a 12% obesity rate. (Gordon, Serena. “Kids who skimp on sleep tend to be fatter.” HealthDay. Nov. 5, 2007)

If causing people to exercise less and eat more was the only problem with sleep deprivation, it might be possible to work out a system for depriving oneself of sleep without gaining weight, as exercise and eating are behaviors that an individual can, at least theoretically, control. But sleep deprivation causes other biological changes, hormonal changes, that are not within an individual’s power to change. Sleep deprivation disrupts the body’s balance of the hormones ghrelin, leptin, and insulin, hormones that affect the body’s appetite and metabolism.

Hormonally, when you lose sleep, your body goes into energy conservation mode, slowing everything down and releasing the hormone ghrelin to increase your appetite so that you can get energy from food, while cutting back on your levels of the hormone leptin, which tells your brain when you feel full. At the same time, your body becomes more resistant to insulin, so your blood sugar levels rise — even after just one night of missed sleep. (“A single night of partial sleep deprivation induces insulin resistance in multiple metabolic pathways in healthy subjects.” The journal of clinical endocrinology and metabolism. June 2010.) If you do not get enough sleep, your body must produce 30% more insulin than usual to keep your blood sugar level normal. (“Obesity and sleep.” National Sleep Foundation)

As a result, not only does lack of sleep increase a person’s risk for weight gain, it also increases the risk for developing type-2 diabetes. In fact, diabetes risk increases after just two weeks of sleep deprivation (Gever, John. “Sleep deprivation hikes diabetes risk.” MedPage Today. Aug. 11, 2009.). Once you have diabetes, getting enough sleep is even more critical, as lack of sleep continues to affect insulin levels. (Mann, Denise. “The sleep-diabetes connection.” WebMD.)

And what about productivity levels? Can you cheat the Sandman by drinking coffee all day? The answer is, temporarily, but not forever. Doctors say that drinking a cup of coffee will help you to wake up and become more alert if you are not used to drinking coffee. If you normally drink coffee every day, though, it is not likely to be helping you much, because your body has become used to it. If you have a rare night of lost sleep, a cup of coffee will wake you up within 15 to 30 minutes, and it will last three or four hours. But your creativity, your judgment, and your ability to analyze information will still be impaired. “If you lose two hours of sleep,” says researcher Mark Rosekind, “that can impair your performance equivalent to having had two to three beers.” You may feel as though coffee helps you to think clearly, but it probably doesn’t. (“Fatigued? Wake up and smell the coffee.” CBS News. Feb. 11, 2009.)

According to Dr. James Maas, “Many of us have been sleep deprived for such a long time that we don’t know what it’s like to feel wide awake.” (Keffeler, Kristin Wehner. “Deprived of sleep and productivity.” Entrepreneur. April 25, 2008.) Let’s find out. How can you tell if you know are getting enough sleep? If you need an alarm to wake you up, you’re not sleeping enough — it’s that simple.

Brett Warren is a fitness and weightlifting enthusiast from Boston, Massachusetts. He is passionate about nutraceutical science and loves his job developing workout supplements for Force Factor. Brett’s extensive background in biochemical engineering means he’s one scientist you don’t want to mess with. When Brett is not crushing it in the gym or working at Force Factor, you can find him spending time outdoors with his family.

 

Image courtesy of [FrameAngel] at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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