Hello gorgeous people!

Last week marked the first installment of a three-part series on the forgotten elements of weight loss. So often we think that if we just move a little more and eat a little less, we’ll shed those frustrating pounds in no time. And unfortunately, it’s often not that easy.

Last week we talked about the link between stress and weight management. We talked about how it not only puts a damper on your weight loss efforts, but how it also negatively impacts your overall health.

Today we’re covering another element I’m all too familiar with: sleep.

Sleep: Mother Nature’s Miracle

There’s nothing I love more than the idea of a long, luxurious sleep. Crawling into bed at 8pm before falling into a deep sleep for 8…9…maybe even 10 hours! Sounds like heaven, doesn’t it?

Unfortunately, despite my best intentions, it rarely works out that way.

As training for my first half ironman picks up, I’ve been making a conscious effort to prioritize sleep. This comes at the expense of my evening chill time and an extra 45 minutes to do some work in the morning. This is proving to be a challenge, as I already feel like I don’t have enough hours in a day!

But sacrifices aside, I know it’s worth it. The increased volume of my weekly training sessions means I need to give my body adequate time to repair and recover. After all, you don’t get stronger during the workout! You get stronger when you recover.

sleep and weight lossAnd as I take my business in a few different directions, I need to make sure I’m at the top of my mental game. Adequate sleep increases your ability to focus and remember important details, and it also keeps you in a much more positive mood. After dealing with a little flood in my apartment over the weekend and the subsequent lack of sleep that comes from having industrial fans blowing 24 hours a day, I’ve learned just how sour I can be when I don’t get enough sleep 😉

But How Much Sleep Is Enough?

You may have heard that we need 8 hours of sleep each night. Or was it 6? Or maybe 9?

The truth is, there is no specific recipe for how much sleep you need. We’re all fabulously unique individuals with different needs, so what works for one person may not work for another. A somewhat vague but helpful recommendation for adults is anywhere from 7-9 hours each night. Keep in mind that if you’re training lots or if you have a stressful life, you’ll want to be on the higher end of that range.

But not only does the amount of sleep you get matter, but your quality of sleep is also important. This means downing two bottles of wine and passing out for 10 hours doesn’t mean your body is getting the rest it needs. And all those years I thought I was such a master of sleep! 😉

How Does a Lack of Sleep Affect Your Weight?

Okay, okay. So we know that getting some extra shut-eye will help our physical and mental performance. But what about weight? Does a little sleep deprivation here and there really have that much of an impact on your waistline?

A big hell yes.

Countless studies have shown a connection between sleep deprivation and weight gain, an inability to lose weight, and obesity.

One study found that skimping out on sleep by just 30 minutes each night can increase your body’s resistance to insulin. The same study found a 30-minute sleep debt for 12 months increased participants’ risk of obesity by 17%. And those results are just from a lack of sleep – no other lifestyle factors were taken into consideration.

Sleep deprivation can also do some really wonky things to your hormones. And as we’ve learned, this can have a profound impact on your weight loss efforts.

Last week we talked about how cortisol can be helpful in small amounts, but how that little hormone can also be detrimental to your weight loss efforts when chronically elevated. Unfortunately, cortisol doesn’t just become elevated from stressful experiences like getting stuck in traffic. It also becomes elevated from sleep deprivation, which, surprise surprise – is stressful to the body!

When you’re stressed out, your body wants to make you feel better. It’s a protective mechanism. It craves serotonin, those feel-good neurotransmitters that pick your mood up. And how does your body think the easiest way to boost your serotonin is? Food! High-fat, high-sugar foods, to be exact.

Feeling Good with Food

Think about a recent occasion where you’ve felt totally BAGGED. You went to get your second triple shot americano for the day because hey, you need something to keep you going, right? While waiting in line at the coffee shop, I’m willing to bet you weren’t eyeing the kale salad in the fridge thinking “DAMN! That looks mighty tasty!”. You were probably looking at the muffins, cookies, and pastries, right?

Your body is wired to crave sugary, fatty, comfort foods when you’re tired. It doesn’t want salad! It wants the food it thinks will make you happy.

Now factor in some increased ghrelin, the hormone that makes you hungry. Let’s lower your leptin, the hormone that signals feelings of fullness. Add it all up, and you’ve got a recipe for over-eating fatty, sugary foods in an attempt to wake yourself up and feel better.

Now try doing that 5 days a week, as most sleep-deprived people who work a typical Monday-Friday 9-5 job do. And let’s not even talk about getting up early to sweat. When you’re already exhausted, how likely are you to hit snooze multiple times and miss your morning workout? Are you more willing to ditch your evening session in favour of crashing on the couch?

Sleep Deprivation and Your Quality of Life

As we’ve noted above, a lack of sleep can impact your physical performance. It can make it more challenging to push yourself through tough workouts. Skimping on shut-eye can make it more difficult to create that sexy muscular definition you’ve been working so hard for in the gym. It can also decrease your reaction time and make you more susceptible to injury.

From a mental performance standpoint, sleep deprivation can make it more difficult to concentrate. You’ll be easily distracted and will spend much more time doing certain tasks than you need to. You’ll probably forget about that thing your co-worker asked you to do, and you’ll find it more challenging to learn new skills.

On top of that, your sleep-deprived self becomes more emotional, more reactive, and your body will be less equipped to fight off illnesses. While a paid sick day might be a great opportunity to catch up on some Z’s, the stress of missing projects and deadlines will take away any benefit.

Not so fun, right?

Improving Your Sleep Hygiene

But fear not, my friend! While all of the above scenarios are less than ideal, you have the ability to do something about them! Practicing good sleep hygiene is like any other lifestyle habit – it takes conscious effort, patience, and consistency.

There are a few things you can do to increase not just the amount of shut-eye you get, but also the quality of it:

  • Create a solid bedtime routine. Aim to go to bed at the same time every night (or as close to the same time as possible). Do the same things each night that tell your body it’s time to go to sleep. Decompress, brush your teeth, read – whatever means “sleep” to you – do it!
  • Avoid using technology right before bed. There are lots of apps you can download to reduce the blue light that’s emitted from our favourite hand-held devices, but let’s be honest – scrolling through Instagram isn’t the best way to quiet your mind.
  • Do something that relaxes you. Stretch, do a light yoga flow, meditate, or even spend a few minutes writing down your thoughts. All of these actions can help quiet your mind and body before bedtime.
  • Increase your sleep in baby steps. If you’re currently clocking 6 hours a night, don’t stress yourself out by immediately trying to sleep for 9 hours. Begin by aiming for an extra 10 minutes. Go to bed 5 minutes earlier, wake up 5 mintues earlier. Once that feels normal, add in an extra 10 minutes. Slow progress is still progress.

Take the Easy Route

There’s no doubt about it – taking the steps to become your happiest, healthiest, most confident self can be challenging. You’ll occasionally have to say no to something really delicious that you don’t want to say no to. You’ll have to pull yourself up for that workout or spin class when you really want to just chill on the couch.

Isn’t it amazing that something as simple as sleep can have such a profound impact on your weight loss efforts? Take the easy route and get some extra shut-eye. Your body and mind (and the people around you!) will thank you.

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Before you go, I’d like to know: what are your sleep habits like? Are you a sleeping champ? Or are you going to make a commitment to yourself to get a little extra shut-eye?

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