A six month research program in the U.S. has studied the link between sleep patterns and weight loss, and has concluded that people who regularly have between six and eight hours sleep a night are more likely to succeed at weight loss programs than those who sleep less or more. It appears that poor sleep may be a risk factor for obesity, and that people who sleep badly may need more help to lose weight.
What is the Link Between Obesity and Sleep?
The results of the study didn’t suggest that simply getting the right amount of sleep would lead to weight loss, rather that it would help someone to stick to a weight loss program. It is thought that sleep can affect levels of the hormones that regulate feelings of hunger and fullness, so someone that is not getting enough sleep can feel hungry even when they aren’t.
The study also looked at stress levels, and the researchers believe that stress can have a similar impact as poor sleep. They stated that “chronic stress may trigger hormonal reactions that result in an intake of energy-dense foods, so that eating becomes a coping behavior and palatable food becomes addictive.”
What did the Study Show?
The study was undertaken by the Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research in Portland, and was published in the International Journal of Obesity. It involved 472 obese adults, who were over 30 years old, and had a BMI between 30 and 50.
They were enrolled in a six month intensive weight loss program which included reducing their daily calorie intake, eating low fat foods, exercising for three hours per week, keeping a food diary, and attending weekly group sessions.
At the beginning and end of the six months, and at every group session, their weights were recorded along with their sleep time, their screen time (time spent watching television), and stress levels. These elements were recorded using standardized questionnaires such as the Perceived Stress Scale. Each participant aimed to lose about ten pounds or more by the end of six months.
The basic results of the study showed that:
- People who reported between six and eight hours sleep at the beginning of the study were far more likely to achieve their weight loss target than people who got more or less sleep.
- People who slept for less than six hours and had high stress levels were half as likely to succeed as those who slept between six and eight hours and had low stress levels.
- Attendance at group sessions, maintaining exercise, and completing food diaries all increased the likelihood of achieving the required weight loss.
- Screen time, and changes in sleep or stress levels throughout the duration of the study did not significantly impact the results.
It may seem to be common sense that people who aren’t sleeping well and who are under stress will have a harder time sticking to a weight loss program, but it does seem that there are hormonal as well as behavioral reasons for this. Obese people that aren’t getting the right amount of sleep, and who are under stress, are likely to find a weight loss program harder to maintain than those that sleep well.
Getting a good night’s sleep could be a good start in taking control of your weight. If you are having difficulty falling asleep, you may be low on the sleep hormone melatonin, which can be taken as a supplement. To make sure you sleep soundly through the night, try a natural sleep remedy such as Sleep Aid.
As well as trying to regulate your sleep patterns so you get between six and eight hours each night, there are a few other ways to improve your chances of sticking to a weight loss program:
- Set yourself a realistic target weight, and a number of milestones along the way. Don’t expect to lose all the weight right away, this is unhealthy and you will end up piling it back on again.
- Banish the word diet from your vocabulary and think of your weight loss program as a change in lifestyle that you intend to maintain forever.
- Make sure you have a good selection of healthy snacks, such as carrot sticks and hummus or nuts, to keep those hunger pangs at bay. Buy plenty of fruit when you go to the supermarket. Eating small healthy meals regularly is better than eating three large calorie-rich meals.
- Allow yourself a treat at set times. If you love chocolate then have a piece of chocolate each evening after dinner. Looking forward to a small treat in the evening will help you resist fattening treats throughout the day.
- Drink as much water or very diluted fresh squeezed fruit juice as you can. People often mistake thirst for hunger and you may find that having a large glass of water when you feel hungry will help to reduce those pangs.