The Power of Sleep

Consider this story, Anna is in her mid 40’s and has been living with obesity for most of her adult life. Her weight has however been stable for about 10 years and she is very happy where she’s at. One day Anna wakes up in the middle of the night in a panic, she dreamed she stopped breathing and it felt very real. The next day the same thing happens and it continues to happen frequently. Anna starts losing sleep, even being afraid of falling asleep which causes immense stress. When she wakes up in the middle of the night stressed and panicked she decides to make herself feel better by eating a snack, usually a bowl of chip or ice cream. After about 1 year of this Anna has gained 30 pounds. Some of you might have guessed, Anna has developed sleep apnea.

This story happens often and demonstrate the power of sleep and stress on our weight. To focus on how sleep affects our behavior towards food here is another story; Peter was diagnosed with sleep apnea about 1 year ago but does not wear the machine at night because it’s uncomfortable. He does not wake up in the middle of the night to eat like Anna did and is not stressed about his disease. He is however very tired because despite not being stressed he still wakes up often during his sleep cycles which leads to overall poor sleep. During the day Peter notices he craves calorie dense foods more and more. He also finds he just can’t resist eating the highly palatable items when they are offered to him or will seek them out a lot more frequently. Prior to his issues with sleep his weight had also been stable but he now has gained 40 pounds in 6 months.

Lack of sleep increases your chances of weight gain.

Both Anna and Peter’s story are fictional but based off true event. The drastic weight gain that can happens with poor sleep is real. The weight gain will be more pronounced if you go from being a good sleeper to a very bad one. You might not notice it as much if you’ve always been a bad sleeper, meaning you’ve lived off very few hours of sleep most of your life. However developing good sleep habits might help you lose weight. Why is sleep so influential on our waist line? Lack of sleep in our brain translate to seeking out more high fat, high sugar items. It acts in a similar way as when we go in starvation mode (although the exact mechanism is different). It is also harder for us to think long term and stick with our health goals. We feel tired and we don’t want to fight with ourselves or our instant want, translating to saying yes to unhealthy food more often.

It’s important to note there is no one size fits all when it comes to sleep, some people need slightly less than others. However the average is around 8 hours of sleep per night, when we go at 6 or below is when we start seeing impacts. It can be challenging to get enough sleep in today’s world with all our technology and light. The light from our devices like TV and cell phone trick our brain in thinking it’s day time, making us stay up longer. If possible try limiting the amount of device you have in your bedroom. You can also download blue light filter apps, that way the light emitted doesn’t mimic the sun’s light. Another thing to consider is your caffeine intake, caffeine can have a devastating effect on our sleep quality especially if consumed later in the day. If you find yourself laying in bed unable to sleep, try meditating. When were unable to sleep at night it’s often linked with stress which meditating can help with. If you’re not quite sure how to meditate try an app or even a yoga class. Many night time yoga classes are more calming and include more meditation, look for a yin yoga class.

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