The Sleep/Weight Loss Connection

Many of us have been hearing the weight loss hormone story for a while. If you are sleep deprived:

  1. Your body makes more Ghrelin-the hormone that says GO, eat more and
  2. Your body makes less Leptin-the hormone that says STOP, and tells your body it is full, and
  3. Your body makes more cortisol, which can increase your appetite.


But here's a critical piece of the sleep/weight loss connection that we are just really beginning to understand:

Sometimes you can burn more calories when you are asleep than when you are just lying in bed.

And it all has to do with our stages of sleep, specifically REM sleep.

During REM sleep your brain is more active than any other stage. In fact in some cases it is MORE active than when you are awake. This activity requires fuel for thought called glucose -  the basic building block of most foods.

Sleep follows a very particular, and fairly predictable,  cycle in most individuals each night: 



Your brain goes from: Wake to Stage 1, from Stage 1 to Stage 2, from Stage 2 to Stages 3 and 4, back to Stage 2 and on into REM sleep. You can see this in the graph above. But look at the yellow bar. This represents REM sleep, and notice how it gets longer and longer as the night progresses! This shows how your body gets more REM sleep in the very early morning hours. Just like riding a bike up hill, you have to climb up before you can coast down that hill,  and you need to go through the first few sleep cycles to get more REM sleep.

But what happens when you only get 6 hours of sleep? YOU CUT OFF THAT LAST REM PERIOD which is where your brain uses the most calories! So what does that mean for your waistline? Over the course of a year, one research study from Sao Paulo showed this could add up to as much as 14 pounds of extra weight!

So what can you do to sleep better and lose this weight?

Lose the snooze and set your alarm to tell you when to go to bed.  Use your alarm to help you know when to go bed to get the right amount of quality sleep.  Don't use the snooze button to potentially interrupt those final minutes of REM sleep!  Set your alarm in the morning for the last possible minute you need to be out of bed.

Take a quick nap if you are feeling drowsy in the middle of the day, try my Nap-a-Latte™ technique: quickly drink a small cup of cool drip coffee, and then take a 25 minute nap. The Nap-a-Latte™ reduces your drowsiness and the caffeine will wake you up, but taken at the right time (no caffeine after 2 p.m.!) will not keep you awake at night.

Try my "glass for a glass method:" drink one glass of water for every alcoholic beverage you drink, and stop all alcohol 3 hours before your bed time alarm goes off .  Alcohol can help you fall asleep, but will keep you out of the deep stages of sleep and REM sleep that you need to avoid sleep deprivation

Stop exercise 4 hours before bed Work out earlier in the evening and consider Yoga, deep breathing or stretching before bed.

Have your breakfast outside in the morning, and get plenty of sunlight to help re-set your internal biological clock.

Sleep loss affects weight loss - from your ability to burn calories to the food choices you make.  Start with a commitment to sleeping better - and you may find yourself a few pounds lighter without changing anything else.  Your body can naturally start making better food choices and wanting to get up and move, because you will be refreshed and energized every morning! Understanding your sleep, and feeling empowered to be able to get the rest you know need is amazing. 

Sweet Dreams,

Michael J. Breus, PhD 
The Sleep Doctor™


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