More Sleep Might Be the Key to Weight Loss

Dieters can burn extra fat by getting a good night's rest

You tossed and turned all last night and, in addition to yawning every three seconds, you feel an uncontrollable urge to devour cinnamon buns by the dozen. What gives? 

Whether you’re trying to lose weight or simply maintain a healthy weight, getting enough sleep may be just as important as going to the gym. That’s because sleep loss will not only stimulate your hunger, it can also decrease the amount of fat you lose while on a diet, according to new research published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

The study, conducted by the University of Chicago Medical Center, found that when dieters didn’t get enough sleep, they continued to lose the same amount of weight, but their fat loss dwindled by 55 percent. Instead, they lost mostly muscle and water. Muscle mass not only looks better, and is better for you, it helps keep your metabolism cranking so you can continue to lose weight. As if that weren’t enough for sleep-deprived dieters to swallow, the researchers also found that a lack of Zzzs triggered the appetite. When your body isn’t well-rested, it produces higher levels of the hormone ghrelin, which activates your appetite while slowing down your metabolism and your body’s ability to burn fat. Whereas people in the real world might end up consuming more calories to satisfy their increased hunger, the study’s participants did not have access to extra food -- which could explain why they still ended up losing the same amount of weight, despite their sleep deprivation. 

For the study, researchers followed 10 overweight and obese volunteers between the ages of 35 and 49 who had a body mass index (BMI) between 25 and 32. All of the volunteers were placed on individualized, calorie-restricted diets based on their metabolic rate that enabled them to lose weight without exercise. Each dieter was followed in a laboratory setting for two 14-day periods. In one, participants were given an 8.5-hour window for sleep, where they averaged 7.5 hours of sleep per night. In the second, they were allowed 5.5 hours of sleep each night. During that phase, participants averaged 5.25 hours of sleep per night. During each 14-day session, volunteers lost an average of 6.6 pounds. When they got a full night’s rest, more than half of the weight they lost came from fat. But when their sleep was restricted, only one-fourth of their weight loss was from body fat. 

"For the first time, we have evidence that the amount of sleep makes a big difference on the results of dietary interventions. One should not ignore the way they sleep when going on a diet,” said study director Plamen Penev, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor of medicine at the University of Chicago, in a written statement. 

As someone who has been waking up every night this week and is trying to shed the five pounds put on during my honeymoon, I am slightly disheartened by this news. But, I’ve been down the insomnia road before and know that what I’m going through is probably more likely due to residual jet lag than not sticking with a regular bedtime routine. 

If you have a hard time falling asleep or staying asleep most nights of the week, make sure you’re practicing good sleep hygiene, first and foremost. That means, for one, making sure you have a regular bedtime and that you stick to it. Keep all electronics out of the bedroom. Set a hard stop on work, emails, bills and any other stressful activities at least an hour before bedtime. If you’re still having a hard time unwinding before bed, meditate, do some light stretching, take a bath or read an enjoyable book that isn’t so engrossing that you can’t put it down. And if it’s your mind that’s keeping you from dreamland, work on clearing your mind by doing some mindful breathing. Remind yourself that worrying will not fix the problem and then try to put it out of your mind by focusing on your breath. Once I calm down enough to settle into the rhythm of my breath, I’m usually asleep within five minutes. Whatever it is I was worrying about can definitely wait until morning. 

And for those of you who fall asleep the minute your head hits the pillow, isn’t it nice to know that a good night’s rest can help you burn fat? Seems to me there really is a weight-loss fairy. 

How much sleep do you get each night -- and do you think it’s helping or hurting your metabolism? Chime in below!

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