Sleep is a vital part of weight management. Here's why....

Dr Nick Fuller
Leading Obesity Expert at the University of Sydney and founder of Interval Weight Loss.

Getting a good night’s sleep means more than being ‘up and at ‘em’ first thing in the morning.

Everyone needs a proper rest to be re-energised each day. If not, we can feel lethargic, moody and unproductive.It's also a vital part of weight management.

Getting the recommended seven to nine hours’ shut-eye can make a big difference to losing weight. And evidence suggests that regularly sleeping for under seven hours a night can adversely affect your health. Not only that, but an unfortunate outcome of insufficient sleep is also weight gain, possibly leading to obesity. 

That’s because many people who struggle with sleep simply don’t have the energy to maintain a regular exercise routine or sometimes, even exercise at all. What’s more, sustained sleep loss creates a hormone imbalance in the body that promotes overeating by increasing feelings of hunger, which in turn can result in poor food choices. It can quickly become a vicious cycle.

Putting more sleep to the test

While getting adequate sleep isn’t a sole weight loss strategy, the conventional wisdom that weight gain is determined by nutrition and activity level is simply just not the case.

A recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association monitored 81 men and women (aged 21-40), all of whom were getting insufficient sleep. The subjects – who usually slept less than 6.5 hours nightly – were monitored over four weeks and their daily eating and activity recorded. They were told not to change their diet or exercise routine. Some were then given sleep counselling to increase the length of their sleep to 8.5 hours. This included reviewing their habitual sleep-wake schedules to ascertain:

Results were then compared to those who still only slept for 6.5 hours.

Those receiving tips to improve their sleep ending up eating less and getting an extra one to two hours of sleep per night. The effect on daily energy intake was significant. Those who slept more ate less throughout the day – in fact, approximately 270 calories less than a group that had two hours’ less sleep.

Further, the researchers found an increase of as little as 100 calories per day could result in a weight gain of about 4.5 kilograms in just three years. That’s certainly a wake-up call right there.

So, what can you do to improve your sleep?

The good news is that you can dramatically improve sleep quality by practising good ‘sleep hygiene’. These are healthy habits that anyone can do to promote a good night’s sleep. Try these top tips:

  1. No blue light after twilight – The blue light from mobiles, laptops and the like suppress your body’s secretion of hormones (such as sleep-inducing melatonin), so you take longer to ease into blissful oblivion. Switch off all those devices!
  2. Boost your serotonin – Serotonin acts like a chemical messenger and comes from the amino acid, tryptophan. Including foods high in tryptophan for your evening meal - think dairy, eggs, tofu, lamb, chicken, salmon, cherries, nuts and seeds to name but a few – can help improve your chances of a good night’s sleep. Add balance to your meal with a serving of wholegrain carbs such as brown rice, or quinoa.
  3. Cut out the caffeine – Relax! Not altogether, but certainly it’s a good idea to reduce the stimulation of caffeine by sticking to caffeine-free herbal teas once lunchtime is over. Don’t forget to reduce fluid intake overall to avoid night-time visits to the bathroom.
  4. Invest in a good mattress – Don’t be afraid to spend a few extra dollars on ensuring your mattress and pillow are right for you. These days, many mattress manufacturers offer a generous ‘road test’ period, so take advantage of this feature to ensure that your bed is going to induce sleep, not keep you awake because you’re uncomfortable.
  5. Sleep in a sanctuary – Get everything out of your bedroom that isn’t directly related to sleeping. Phones, screens, pets and gym equipment have no place in what should be a restful place for just you and your partner.
  6. Retrain your brain – Contrary to popular belief, alcohol isn’t a good way to deal with stress. Nor is it a good inducer of sleep. At least, not once it wears off! Instead, focus on taking up other stress-reducing activities or hobbies.
  7. Exercise really works! – Even if you can only manage 30 minutes a day, every bit helps when it comes to enjoying better sleep quality. Take the stairs instead of the lift or walk a little faster to that meeting and you’ll not only become fitter, but your sleep patterns will also improve

About Dr Nick Fuller

Dr Nick Fuller is the founder of Interval Weight Loss and is a leading obesity expert at the University of Sydney with a Ph.D. in Obesity Treatment. Dr Fuller is also the author of three best-selling books and his work been published in top ranked journals in the medical field, including JAMA, Lancet and American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.