Counting calories, tracking sugar, avoiding alcohol — for all the effort that many of us put into losing or maintaining weight, what if you could help yourself in a significant way by something as simple as getting the right amount of sleep?
A recent study shows just that: Getting more shut-eye might help you fight off cravings for junk food.
The study looked at people of average weight who were not getting the recommended seven to nine hours of sleep per night.
The participants were separated into groups – some kept their sleep habits of less than seven hours, and some tried extending their sleep by about an hour and 15 minutes.
At the end of four weeks, the people who logged more sleep saw a reduction in sugar intake of about 10 grams.
The need for energy
The results are not surprising, says psychologist Leslie Heinberg, PhD. Dr. Heinberg, who is Section Head for Psychology in Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Behavioral Health Department of Psychiatry and Psychology and Director of Behavioral Services for the Bariatric and Metabolic Institute, did not take part in the study.
If you’re feeling lethargic because of a lack of sleep, you might turn to food for the energy to power through, she says.
In addition, when people are sleep-deprived, they tend to gravitate towards certain types of foods – usually those that give a rush of energy. These foods are more likely to be simple carbohydrates, or higher in sugar or fat.
While these types of foods may provide an initial rush, they will leave us with a crash later and eventually lead to weight gain, she says.
The impact of one small change
This study shows how a small change, such as going to bed a little earlier, can help us feel better for weight maintenance and for our overall well-being, Dr. Heinberg says.
Good sleep hygiene isn’t just for people who are overweight or working on weight loss – it’s important for everyone.
“Just getting a little more sleep can help you lose weight, but it’s also going to help you focus better; it’s going to help your mood, help your irritability; make you a safer driver, and more productive at work,” Dr. Heinberg says. “Just that little behavior change can have an enormous positive cascade on a lot of different health behaviors and health outcomes.”
Getting enough sleep is just one part of the weight-loss puzzle, she says. You have to take care of yourself to eliminate eating as a way of coping.
“When we think about managing weight or losing weight, it’s hard to simply focus on diet and exercise, because other behaviors, such as managing stress, getting a good night’s sleep, can play an important role as well,” she said.
Complete results of the study can be found in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.