Your bedroom. It’s your own personal refuge at the end of a long, hectic day. It’s the most private area of your home; after all, guests use the bathroom, gather in the kitchen, and visit in the living room, but few guests will wander into your bedroom. It’s the place where you fall blissfully into your comfortable bed at night to dream away the hours peacefully, and then awaken refreshed and ready for a new day. And believe it or not, it’s also just as important as the gym when it comes to maintaining a healthy weight.
It’s not just the kitchen that’s out to get you when it comes to putting on the pounds; many studies have concluded that the bedroom --- or more specifically, the bedroom’s major purpose: sleep – plays a significant role in weight gain, appetite control and health eating. You already know that a lack of good-quality sleep is linked to several health problems, including:
- High blood pressure
- Wrinkled, dull skin
- Lowered immune system function
- Reduced sex drive
But now there’s a new health buster to add to the list -- routinely sleeping five hours or less each night can make you fat. And it doesn’t have to be years of insufficient sleep, either; even a few nights spent burning the candle at both ends is enough to skewer your diet goals. A study done at the University of Colorado found that test subjects who slept only five hours per night for one week gained an average of two pounds during that time. That means a rough week spent working overtime, a sick toddler, or too many nights spent binge-watching your favorite show might show up on the bathroom scale.
When You’re Tired, You Snack
A foggy brain is a brain in search of quick energy, and also prone to making poor food choices. That explains why you find yourself standing in front of the office vending machine, money in hand, every afternoon when the “three o’clock slump” strikes, or even worse, pulling that carton of Ben and Jerry’s – the one you swore was for the kids – out of the freezer shortly before bedtime. And worst of all, when you are exhausted and barely able to drag yourself out of bed because your wakeup time is far too close to your bedtime, it’s nearly impossible to pass by those luscious donuts in the lunchroom, or resist the lure of pulling through Starbucks for a Venti Mocha Cookie Crumble Frappuccino. The inevitable result? Pants that are too tight, and no, it’s not because they shrunk in the wash. In the University of Colorado study, the participants particularly craved carbs, and lots of them. Sound familiar? Then get to bed early tonight.
It’s a Hormone Thing
Your desire to eat is far more complicated than, “Mmm, chocolate cake and ice cream sound pretty good right now.” In fact, an intricate dance of hormones helps keep your appetite under control, and the two most important of those hunger hormones are ghrelin and leptin.
Ghrelin hangs out in your stomach, reporting on food intake to your brain. It’s a hungry hormone; when your stomach is empty, ghrelin levels rise drastically, telling your brain, “Hey, we need some food in here!” In response, you feel a desire to eat. Leptin is produced by your fat cells, and along with other food-related functions, it’s in charge of letting your brain know that you’re full. That sends the signal that it’s time to set your fork down.
When you’re well-rested, these two hormones are better able to maintain balance, and you are far likelier to make wise food choices. Your willpower and clear thinking are strong, and it’s far easier to resist the siren call of, “Just one more slice of pizza.”
When your body is sleep-starved, however, ghrelin and leptin lose control, and instead of smart eating, you feel intense cravings for high-carb, high calorie foods. In fact, one study reviewed in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics found that test subjects who slept only four hours per night for two nights in a row had 28% higher levels of ghrelin and 18% lower levels of leptin than test subjects who slept for ten hours, leading to a fierce craving for high-calorie foods and a lowered ability to stop eating when full. Now, you obviously don’t live in a research laboratory, but this study, along with a multitude of others, are in agreement: if you aren’t serious about the importance of sleep, it’s likely to show up around your waistline.
Obviously, there’s more to weight gain, and weight loss, than a good night’s sleep. After all, even if you log ten hours of slumber a night, but then spend your waking hours sitting on the couch eating potato chips, you’re going to be on the wrong side of the healthy-weight chart. But the evidence is clear; sleeping the full amount of hours your body needs for optimal function – that’s seven to nine hours every night for most adults – is a powerful tool in your weight-loss arsenal, as well as crucial for your overall health, mental well-being and appearance. So do yourself a favor; hit the hay early tonight.