We all know that sleep is vital for good health. It helps your memory and ability to learn new things, lowers stress, sharpens your motor skills and coordination, picks up mood, improves cardiovascular health and can even lower your risk of developing cancer.
As if that weren’t enough, sleeping a full night (which most of us don’t do in our sleep-deprived society) can actually help you lose weight.
At least 24 research studies have been conducted looking at the sleep-more-weigh-less phenomenon, with a study by the University of Chicago in 2010 getting a lot of notice. In their program, researchers followed 10 overweight adults for a period of two, two-week intervals. In the first two-week series, participants were observed in the laboratory and encouraged to obtain 8.5 hours of sleep per night. They were all placed on a balanced diet with very mild calorie restriction. Daytime hours were spent doing activities similar to that of what the participants usually did at home. In the second two-week interval, participants were kept on the same diet, but limited to 5.5 hours of sleep each night. Researchers found that when sleep-deprived, participants consumed more carbohydrates and calorie-dense food for energy. Although the groups lost the same amount of weight overall, the well-rested group lost dramatically more fat (ideal) whereas the sleep-deprived group lost more muscle mass (not ideal).
Sleep researchers have a good understanding as to why sleep deprivation can increase appetite. Less sleep influences two key hormones in our body: leptin and ghrelin. Leptin is the hormone that tells our body to stop eating, giving us the sensation that we are full. Ghrelin, on the other hand, is a hormone that gives us a hunger signal and tells us to eat. When we don’t get enough sleep, the leptin/ghrelin balance is shifted, with a drop in leptin and an increase in ghrelin. Essentially, with sleep loss, our bodies have more hormone that tells us to eat, and less hormone that tells us to stop.
Another key benefit to sleeping more is that it will give you more energy. With that comes more of an ability to exercise and get the most out of your workouts. We know that combining diet and exercise is a key to weight loss and healthy living, but if you add a full night of sleep into the equation, you’ll reap the benefits even more.
So how do you figure out your “ideal” number for sleep? Although eight hours is definitely the average for most people, there is indeed a range. On your next vacation, don’t bother setting an alarm. Instead, track your bedtime and wake time every day for that week. Then average the amount of nightly sleep from nights four to seven. This will give you a good estimate of your ideal sleep need. It is very likely that you might have some sleep deprivation just before going on vacation, so the first few nights without an alarm are likely catching up from the sleep loss. After a few nights, you’ll be better rested and you can get a better sense as to how much sleep you need.
MORE: The "Perfect" Amount of Sleep
If you’re struggling with losing weight, maintaining weight or finding that you have less energy than you’d like, consider getting more sleep. It can dramatically impact many areas of your life!
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