Sleep, health and weight loss

Dear Dr. Mo: I am looking into some weight loss programs and I am trying to work out my strategy to come back to my healthy weight. My work sometimes requires giving up on sleep and I tend to be too tired too often. Should I also consider better sleep as part of my weight loss strategy?

Dear reader: What an insightful question! Many of the dieting programs focus heavily on dietary habits and the types of foods we eat, when we eat them and how much. This is rightly so because to attain and maintain a healthy weight, we require a careful selection of healthful foods and a balanced way to eat them. We should also be mindful of our calorie total– don’t go below 1200 calories a day to avoid driving your body into starvation mode.

Sleep is a big part of your healthy weight

Dieting programs also focus on exercise, again rightly so because you need a way to burn through a few hundred calories a day in order to lose about 500 grams a week – which is the pace I’d recommend.  If you cut out 500 calories a day, every day, you’ll be losing about 500 grams of weight a week.

What most dieting programs don’t talk about, and I think they should, is a major component of our health – sleep.

If we don’t sleep well and don’t get enough of it, our health suffers and it becomes increasingly difficult to curb the appetite and control our weight. Being overweight deteriorates our health in both the short and the long run.

Disrupted sleep patterns disrupt the circadian rhythm and increase sleep deprivation, which in turn increases the hunger hormone ghrelin.
There are two of these hormones that regulate our appetite and feelings of hunger and fullness – leptin and ghrelin – and both are directly affected by how much sleep time we give ourselves. With less than five hours of sleep, we disrupt the fine balance of these hormones and impair our control over our appetite. Furthermore, if we get our hunger fits at night, we may have fewer restaurants to choose from; we may have less energy to prepare a healthy meal and may often turn to eating some junk and fast food close at hand – and you know well what that does..

I will be honest with you here: we are still unsure why sleep matters so much and what are the processes so important to our brains while we sleep, that we lose awareness of our surroundings and become less responsive to external stimuli for several hours. This is still a scientific mystery and a subject of many a research but what is known for fact is that sleep is vital to our health and wellbeing and that not enough of it is hazardous well beyond its dietary effects – it has been shown that not enough of a shut-eye time increases blood pressure, increases insulin resistance, disrupts glucose metabolism and influences the development of some cancers such as breast and colorectal cancers; it also impairs our attention and will power, depleting our ability to resist food temptations (and many other temptations for that matter).

Less sleep might make you a more efficient executive in the short run and get you a bonus at work but it will over time add to your weight and increase your chances of developing type 2 diabetes by 20, 40 and even 50+ percent as more time passes by. It will also degrade your overall health both mental and physical.

As you look into your weight loss plan and as you ponder the types of foods you wish to add to or subtract from it and as you think about the types of physical activities that are right for you, do not forget about one of the most important components of your health – good night sleep.

Yours in health,

Dr. Mo

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