Sleep, stress and weight loss

I often get asked in the gym and on Instagram if there is a secret or key to my weight loss and body composition transformation. While there is no one sole ‘thing’ that will give you a magic solution to reach your goals, whether this is weight loss, fat loss or just generally to be healthier (the goal I feel you should opt for over stressing about a number on the scales), one of the first things I ask these people is how is your sleeping and what are your stress levels like?

Sleep and your health

Only after that do I speak to them about their daily activities, exercise and diet. It may shock you to know that as many 16 million UK adults are suffering from sleepless nights and a third say they have insomnia! When I read this stat, it’s safe to say I was shocked. As someone who is rarely in bed later than 10pm, and more often than not tucked up by 9.30pm (#OldBeforeMyTime), it was hard for me to believe that so many adults are only getting between 4-5 hours’ sleep a night…. I could barely function on that little sleep. #GiveMeAllTheCoffee.

Research has shown that being short on sleep can affect your body in so many ways, including your weight, mental-health and general wellbeing. When we’re tired it’s far too easy to nip to our favourite coffee shop on the way into work, grab an extra large latte (maybe with one of those tasty syrups for a cheeky sugar rush), slump at your desk and miss your exercise before or after work.

No drama if this happens once or twice, at the end of the day we all suffer with restless nights every once in a while, but make this a habit and you’ll be in a weight gain battle forever.

Tiredness is a little like being drunk

In the sense that your mental clarity to make good decisions is often blurred. When you’re tired, you’re more likely to reach for a takeaway because you can’t be bothered to cook from scratch or go for sugary snacks and processed foods to help give yourself a bit of a boost. Add it all together and you’ve got a sleepy brain that appears to crave non-nutrient dense foods and a lack of ability to say no.

According to SleepCouncil.org, an adult between 18 and 65 years should be getting around 7-9 hours of sleep each night. Get less than that and your body will react in a way that would lead even the most determined health nut straight to a tub of Ben & Jerry’s Cookie Dough ice cream. Not getting enough sleep triggers a cortisol spike in your body. This stress hormone signals your body to conserve as much energy as possible to fuel you while you’re awake. In other words, your body will try and hang on to fat to keep you going!

Researchers found that when dieters cut back on sleep over 14 days, the amount of weight they lost from fat dropped by a whopping 55%, even though their calories stayed the same. They felt hungrier and less satisfied after meals, and their energy levels were pretty much non-existent.

Did you know that within 4 days of insufficient sleep, your body’s ability to process insulin (a hormone needed to change sugar, starches, and other food into energy) goes completely astray? So when your body doesn’t respond properly to insulin, it has trouble processing fats from your bloodstream, so it ends up storing them as fat. So it’s not so much that if you sleep, you’ll lose weight, but that too little sleep harms your metabolism and contributes to weight gain.

Stress

Stress is bad for us. Simple. It can cause headaches, muscle tension, disturbed sleep, depression and can also affect our metabolism. Like a lack of sleep, stress can increase the hormone cortisol which ups your appetite, cravings and makes it easier for you to accumulate and hold onto abdominal fat.

When you’re excessively stressed, it can also change the way you eat which can in turn, lead to weight gain. You’re more likely to crave high-fat, high-sugar foods and are more likely to turn to emotionally eat too. Spend hours a day sitting behind a desk with a high stress or incredibly busy job? That mixed with a long commute may leave you foregoing exercise; but exercise in any form is a great stress busting method.

Break the cycle

There are so many things you can do to help battle your stress levels. From Yoga, Pilates and the gym, to taking yourself off on a long gentle stroll during your lunch break, there are some great methods to help bring those levels down and get your blood pumping. Don’t have time for a long walk? Go for a 10 or even 5 minute one instead, by just breaking your sitting pattern at work, you can help shift your metabolism and boost your overall mood.

Find whatever works best for you. Clear your head, catch up with a friend or listen to a podcast. However you choose to reduce your stress, doing so will help you reach any fitness or health goals you may have.

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