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I am the mother of three kids. I’m sure I speak for every parent in the world when I say that sleep is a hot, hot, hot commodity. When you’re sleep deprived, nothing is more important. Nothing. Days are long, the nights are too short and your pillow could use a lot more company. All that said, the connection between a lack of sleep and weight gain is tight, but something not many of us understand.

Before I go any further, I’m not ignorant to the fact that there are many people who don’t have the luxury of a full night of sleep – even given their best effort. Caregivers, first responders and those living with sleep disorders from insomnia to sleep apnea lack proper sleep, but simply can’t get it due to circumstances.

While nothing can take the place of a full night of sleep, a few of our day-to-day habits, including what we eat, can help buffer the impact of a lack of sleep.

Let’s get to the bottom of how sleep and weight gain relate, and what we can do if we can’t always get a full eight hours of ZZZs.

 

The Sleep & Weight Gain Connection

Sleep is like food. Our body can’t live without it, and when we don’t have it  – we crave it!


Even if you feel like you’re okay on just five hours a sleep a night, your body disagrees and still needs a full night for optimal health and balance.


So whether or not you actually feel deprived, a lack of sleep affects us in many, many ways.


  • Mental effects: Sleep deprivation can affect your mood, increasing the likelihood of depression and anxiety.
  • Physical effects: A lack of sleep can cause memory problems, fatigue and a lack of coordination.
  • Physiological effects: Too little sleep can increase blood pressure, the risk of heart attack, risk of diabetes and cause obesity.
  • Bottom line: the amount of sleep you get isn’t arbitrary. Cutting a few hours a sleep here and there probably won’t do too much harm, but the long-term effects of a lack of adequate sleep and weight gain, among other health problems, is real.

     

    How Sleep Helps with Weight Loss

    A study conducted at the University of Chicago looked at two groups of people, both on a low-calorie diet. One group slept 5.5 hours a night, and another group slept 8.5 hours a night. Interestingly enough, both groups lost the same amount of weight (7 pounds), but the sleep-deprived group lost mostly muscle in comparison to the rested group that lost mostly fat.


    This study was only conducted over a two week period! Now, the participants were indeed overweight to begin with, so the fact that they lost weight on a low-calorie diet is not a shocker. It’s the huge disparity between muscle and fat loss that’s the real eye-opener.


    Sleep, HGH and Fat Storage

    In a perfect world we all go to sleep and wake eight hours later with no disturbance in between. Somewhere along the line, our professions, children or over-active social lives prevent this from happening. Missing an hour here and there will probably not tax us too much, but constant sleep deprivation can wreak havoc on our bodies, forcing our body to store fat.

    Here’s how that works.


    Our bodies circulate about 50 different hormones.


    Think of these hormones as messengers with one purpose: to pick up and react to signals received from the body.


    Hormones don’t have emotions. They don’t care what you think of them. They only do as they’re told.


    Our bodies were designed to go through five sleep cycles – each lasting about 90 minutes.


    About an hour into every sleep cycle, our brain goes into stage three sleep – or deep sleep. After our brain is in deep sleep, a signal is sent from the pituitary gland to release something called human growth hormone (HGH). HGH is really important, especially if you’re interested in muscle tone, more youthful skin and maintaining a more optimal weight – because this hormone manages all of those functions.


    Sleep is when your body has a chance to rebuild and really work with the HGH in your body. If you don’t sleep, you’ll likely store more fat than you would with a great night of sleep. It’s really important to try to get somewhere between 7 to 8 hours of sleep.


    HGH and HIIT

    Let’s say you simply don’t have a way to get a full night of sleep. Fortunately, you can still increase your HGH with exercise! If you don’t mind working up a sweat, this could be great news for you.

    High intensity interval training, or HIIT, exponentially boosts your HGH. HIIT workouts, like in The Belly Burn Plan, are incredibly effective and can be done at any age. The key is to push your body to a point of perceived exertion that is very, very strenuous. Think of a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the most challenging. You should be feeling you’re hitting about a 9 or 10 with each interval.

    Yes, that’s very hard – and incredibly challenging. But HIIT workouts are usually quite short. They’re not endurance workouts and they’re technically not strength workouts either, but they’re really effective at keeping your heart strong, body nimble and muscle toned.

    If you’re interested, here is some more information on HIIT along with workout you can do today to boost you HGH.

    Sleep Deprivation, Cortisol and Body Fat

    Our body picks up on stress, even when we don’t necessarily feel it. A lack of sleep is one such example. Muscling through the day on five hours of sleep (or less) may not feel terribly stressful, but our body disagrees.


    Less sleep than what our body needs triggers the release the stress hormone, cortisol, from our adrenal glands. Think of cortisol as the first responders of our body. It’s number one job is to protect our body, including our internal organs, to sustain life.


    Think that sounds dramatic?


    Cortisol is what our body releases when it perceives any threat – whether it’s running from a pack of wolves or struggling to maintain function because we didn’t get enough sleep. A lack of sleep and weight gain will simply happen if we don’t get enough.


    Cortisol doesn’t distinguish threats – and it doesn’t care to. All cortisol wants to do is protect us.


    One of the best ways to protect our body, at least from an evolutionary perspective, is to store fat – especially through the vital organs.


    The more sleep deprived we are, the more cortisol is called to action. When cortisol is called to action, fat storage happens is on the way.  Fat storage is more likely to happen with chronic sleep deprivation. If you can get a good night of sleep here and there, your body can probably handle it, but if you’re always running on five or fewer hours of sleep, your body will share the brunt of the burden.


    Calming Cortisol During the Day

    If you’re in a situation, occupational or personally, where you simply can’t get enough sleep and cortisol is kicking your butt, there are a few things you can do to help buffer the effects.


    Cut Out Caffeine: You may think I’m 100% crazy if I think someone who is sleep deprived will give up caffeine, but believe it or not, it can help. Caffeine can artificially elevate cortisol. If you’re boosting a hormone that’s already jacked up, you’re just feeding the fire.


    Cutting out caffeine can help you during the day by encouraging less stress and cortisol levels to return to a more normal point, at least temporarily.


    Eat More Protein: Protein can help you maintain even blood sugar levels, feed your muscles and calm cortisol – if only a little bit. Healthy protein options include eggs, nuts, lean meats and poultry, fish and some protein powders. Personally, I like Orgain.


    Eat Less Sugar: Pay attention to how much sweet stuff you’re eating. When we’re dealing with higher-than-normal cortisol levels, we crave sugar. Even though it can be very difficult to cut back on, opt for fresh fruits, plain full fat yogurt, lots of vegetables and healthy fats, like nuts, avocados or eggs.


    If you need some structure, here is a perfect meal plan to follow.


    Tips to Sleep Better

    Here are a few steps to help get a better night of zzzzzz’s.

 
  • Create a bedtime ritual
  • Go to bed at the same time every night
  • Wake at the same time every morning
  • Exercise most days of the week
  • Avoid caffeine eight hours before bed (tea, coffee, chocolate) or cut it out entirely
  • Sleep in a quiet, dark environment
  • Take a magnesium supplement (either during the day or at night). Magnesium has been shown to have a positive effect on stress and promote relaxation. This is the magnesium supplement I recommend.

 

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