The first and foremost item that should be at the top of any weight management program is sleep.
It is estimated that people in North America get on average about 6.5 hours per night of sleep. The body, however, was designed for more like 7-8 hours per night. While this may not seem like a big difference, the impact of sleep deprivation is compounded over time.
Your body uses approximately 20% of its total daily energy requirements just to service your brain. Two-thirds of this energy is what you use during the day while you are awake. The other one-third, however, is used when you are asleep doing ‘housekeeping.’
Essentially, it is resetting your brain’s chemistry so that you can perform at peak efficiency. It does this in a few different ways.
- It helps lowers the amount of Ghrelin you have in your body. This is the hormone that regulates your wanting to eat. When you don’t get enough sleep excess Ghrelin builds up and you start craving quick energy foods (carbohydrates/sugars) resulting in overeating.
- It helps increase the amount of Leptin you have in your body. This is the hormone that regulates your wanting to stop eating. When you don’t get enough sleep not enough Leptin builds up and you have a decreased ability to recognize when your body’s energy reserves are full resulting in overeating
- It helps regulate the amount of Adenosine you have in your body. There is a difference between your brain chemistry and your body chemistry. While adenosine is an important component of energy transfer throughout most of the body, the accumulation of adenosine in the brain is considered a ‘waste’ by-product of the brain’s metabolism. Too much adenosine causes fatigue, or sleep pressure, that can only be effectively cleared during our sleep cycles. When you don’t get enough sleep, adenosine accumulates in the brain and the body’s natural reaction is to slow down your metabolism in preparation for sleep
- It helps reduce the amount of Cortisol you have in your body. Cortisol regulates the amount of insulin your body produces. Normally, cortisol is produced as a response to low blood sugar that increases insulin which helps regulate energy production. When we are stressed the body produces too much cortisol as a preparation for ‘fight or flight’ actions (i.e. an anticipation that the body will need a boost in energy requiring insulin). Sustained stress, however, causes more insulin to be produced than what we need. The result is your blood sugar drops and you crave sugary, fatty foods.
The difference between 5 hours of sleep and 8 hours of sleep per night is approximately 10-20 lbs of fat per year. When you have all of these hormonal challenges assaulting you from inside your body, it is difficult for “skinny” people to understand that you aren’t fighting a battle of willpower, you are fighting a battle of body chemistry.
That is not a war you can win by trying to tackle it strictly from the standpoint of trying to convince yourself to eat less or eat healthier. You can only hope to win short battles unless you change the way you are approaching the war.
So not withstanding exercise, nutrition, or anything else, sleep needs to be your number one priority as sleep is the only way you can get your body to work with you on your weight management goals, rather than against you.