Why Sleep Might be More Important than Diet & Exercise

We all know that proper diet and exercise are pillars of good health and essential for maintaining a healthy body weight. We also know that sleep is good for us, but it’s often given less importance when we’re factoring it into our weight loss efforts. It’s considered more of a luxury than a requirement, but studies show that without proper sleep, you may continue to struggle with weight loss even if you are dieting and exercising.


One interesting stat to consider: the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention state that 1 in 3 Americans are sleep deprived- compare that to the 35% of Americans who are classified as obese, and the sleep-weight connection becomes pretty clear.


So, before you swap out some much needed sleep in exchange for a gym session, consider the following findings on why sleep might actually be more important than diet and exercise.


Sleep Deprivation Can Undo Your Healthy Diet

A study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine showed that sleeping less than seven hours a night can sabotage your diet. It found that not only does a lack of sleep leave people feeling hungrier and less satisfied with their meals, but it has a significant effect on actual weight loss. Two groups were looked at, both with the same diet and exercise. The first group had enough sleep, while the second had less than seven hours per night. The sleep deprived group experienced a 55% reduction in weight loss compared to the first group!


Less sleep also makes it harder to resist poor food choices because it impairs activity in your frontal lobe, which governs will power and decision making.


Sleep deprivation messes with your metabolism.

On a physiological level, a lack of sleep messes with your metabolism and creates what is known as “metabolic grogginess.” Researchers at the University of Chicago found that after just four days of poor sleep, insulin sensitivity, which plays a large role in regulating the metabolism, drops by as much as 30%.   


When insulin levels are stable, your cells are functioning properly and are able to remove fatty acids and lipids from your blood stream. However, when insulin isn’t functioning properly, the acids and lipids are stored in your body, leading to weight gain and a host of health concerns.


Originally, it was believed that sleep’s sole function was to give your brain a rest but as this study shows, it’s role in energy metabolism is at least as important.


“We found that fall cells need sleep to function properly,” said study author Matthew Brady, associate professor of medicine and vice-chair of the Committee on Molecular Metabolism and Nutrition at the University of Chicago.


Hormones that regulate appetite are affected

The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology published research that shows that sleeping less than six hours a night throws off the hormones that are responsible for regulating your appetite. Cortisol levels, for example, are elevated when we don’t get enough sleep, and this combined with other hormonal imbalances lead to increased appetite and decreased satisfaction after a meal. 


Two other affected hormones are leptin and ghrelin. Sleep deprivation throws these out of wack and cause you to not only feel hungrier and feel less satisfied but also burn less calories. A drop in leptin makes your stomach actually feel emptier, while a rise in ghrelin makes you feel hungrier and slows your metabolism. And all of this from missing out on a few hours of sleep!


It can hinder your fitness goals

Sleep deprivation has been shown to decrease your body’s ability to build muscle and to recover after exercise. If you’re tired, you also won’t be able to exert as much energy at the gym, so a lack of sleep works in multiple ways to keep you from a higher level of fitness, even if you are still attending the gym regularly.


Proper diet and exercise are still vital factors in weight loss and healthy living but as you can see, sleep is an equally important part of the equation. While everyone is different, we generally need between 7-9 hours of sleep per night to function at optimum levels. Commit to making a good night’s sleep a non-negotiable part of your life style for optimum health and weight loss benefits.


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