Losing sleep over your excess weight? Here’s some advice for you – don’t. Lying awake at night fretting about your size and shape, or anything else for that matter, isn’t going to help shed those surplus kilos one single bit.
In fact, sleep and weight loss are linked. The less sleep you get, the more likely you are to put on additional weight, for lots of reasons – anything from having more time to raid the fridge while you’re awake, to what ought to be going on inside you while you’re asleep, but isn’t. So here are some of the most important hormones your body produces – and what they do – to give you the incentive to get a bit more shut-eye in future.
Possibly the most powerful anti-oxidant in our bodies, melatonin is released at the onset of darkness to prepare the body for sleep by breaking down active hormones, shutting down brain activity and pulling hormones and oxygen from muscle tissue and other cells. Net result: the need to lie down somewhere, sleep and let the body start working on shedding those surplus pounds.
Also known as the stress hormone, cortisol breaks protein down into glucose. But if there’s too much glucose, it ends up being stored as fat. Worse than that, too much cortisol makes the body use soft tissue like muscle for its energy needs instead of that fat. In short, it makes the fat pile on while reducing muscle mass. Unfortunately, the less we sleep at night, the higher our cortisol levels climb. And just to add insult to injury, cortisol triggers a hunger response in the brain. We need to let sleep and weight loss do their thing at night.
Leptin and Ghrelin
Aside from being a character in Game of Thrones, Ghrelin is also a hormone that tells us when we need to eat (as if we needed another one). It’s created in our gastrointestinal tract, and the less we sleep, the more ghrelin we produce. So the longer we stay awake, the more that ghrelin tells us we need to eat.
And leptin is pretty much the opposite of ghrelin: produced in the body’s fat cells, leptin sends a signal to the brain to let us know we’ve eaten enough. The only problem is, the less we sleep, the less leptin we produce. So the longer we stay awake, the less likely we are to know that we’ve eaten enough … when we’ve eaten enough.
While we sleep, our body metabolizes carbohydrates we’ve eaten earlier. This keeps our blood sugar levels down and reduces the amount of fats we store. Not enough sleep can lead to too much blood sugar, and that can lead to insulin resistance. This makes it difficult for our body to dispose of glucose in the liver and elsewhere, leading, potentially, not just to obesity, but also cardiovascular disease and Type II diabetes.
While we sleep our body creates more growth hormone than when we’re awake. This hormone stimulates cell reproduction, regeneration and growth, not least when it comes to building up muscles. More growth hormone means a higher metabolism, meaning we burn up energy more rapidly and so have the potential to lose more weight faster.
So now there’s no need to lose sleep over weight issues any more: in fact, the best thing you could do to let your body take the strain of the weightloss work is simply relax and go to sleep. Night, night.