Less than 1/3 of Americans get enough sleep on a regular basis!!
Besides the numerous adverse effects on our overall health including an increased risk for type 2 diabetes(1), certain types of cancer(2), and cardiovascular and inflammatory markers(3), insufficient sleep can also potentially make us gain weight. (4,5,6,7)
And there is strong evidence that not getting enough sleep can add fat in the most dangerous place: our bellies. (8)
Sleep deprivation makes us more susceptible to weight gain and increased belly fat in a few key ways:
Increases a hormone called ghrelin, which makes us feel more hungry
Decreases a hormone called leptin, which makes us feel less full
Increases the hormone insulin, which reduces fat burning
Increases the hormone cortisol, which makes us more susceptible to belly fat (see last week’s blog post about cortisol and belly fat)
Increases cravings for carbs and sweets
Makes us more tired so we are less likely to work out or be physically active
That is SEVEN very significant ways insufficient sleep can disrupt your efforts to lose weight and lose that belly fat.
Ideally get between 7-8 hours of sleep every night to avoid this.
How do you get more sleep?
First understand how detrimental sleep deprivation is to your body. You have to be bought-in to this in order to make the effort to make this change.
Next I recommend monitoring your current sleep activity. The Oura Ring is great for this. I have one and I did a home sleep study to see how accurate it is. It was pretty close to the medical sleep study. If you have an Apple Watch, that is another option. And the new higher level Fitbits seem to be pretty good as well.
Once you start monitoring your sleep you can see how many hours you are getting, if you wake up frequently (sometimes people can wake up very frequently but do not realize it), and how much deep sleep and REM sleep you are getting.
If you are not getting a solid 7-8 hours of sleep each night then start with getting in bed at the same time every night. Consistent bed times have been shown to improve sleep. (9)
If you are not sleeping enough out of choice (as opposed to real sleep problems) then start by going to bed 15 minutes earlier every night for 20-30 days. Many people I work with report a noticeable difference in energy, mood, hunger and cravings with just a 15-minute difference! Slowly work up to where you are getting at least 8 hours of “sleep opportunity” and between 7-8 hours of sleep each night.
If you have trouble falling asleep I highly recommend powering down the technology and bright lights at least an hour before bed and then meditating for 10 minutes or more before you try to fall asleep. There are some great meditation apps out there including 10% Happier, Calm, and Headspace. Pzizz and Relax Melodies are some apps that include music and sound effects to help you fall asleep.
Keep your room cool! 67 degrees F seems to be the sweet spot, but some people prefer even a little cooler (60-67 F).(9)
Other strategies to improve sleep include: avoid naps during the day, stop consuming caffeine by 1-2 PM at the latest, avoid alcohol before bed, avoid big meals before bed, avoid heavy exercise before bed, get exposed to early morning outdoor light daily, engage in daily exercise, spend time outdoors in nature, get a more comfortable bed.
If you do ALL of these things consistently and you still struggle with sleep then I suggest working with a practitioner that can help you identify other possible causes.
If you are determined to get rid of the belly fat, please do not discount the huge role of sleep in this endeavor.
For people that are “doing everything right” I often find they are doing a lot with diet and exercise but they are not addressing sleep and stress. Just because these factors seem unrelated to belly fat or your weight, does not mean that they are.