Discover the powerful connection between sleep and your brain, body, and weight loss goals. Learn how quality sleep can improve mental health, optimize exercise and strength training, and support successful weight loss. Find useful tips to help you achieve a good night’s rest and reach your wellness goals.
Do you wonder what happens when you sleep? How it affects your brain, body, and weight loss goals?
Many experts agree that the pillars of health are sleep, nutrition, exercise, and relaxation (or stress reduction). However, I really feel that sleep is the foundation on which the pillars are built.
The benefits of strength training and exercise in general are endless, however, you CAN still live a full life without exercise. You can endure years under tremendous amounts of stress. You can survive on water alone for a month or two.
But the longest anyone has ever gone without sleep is 11 days – and that was a 17-year-old kid in 1964 trying to get into the Guinness Book of World Records.
In this article, I talk about how sleep affects your brain and body, how sleep is related to weight loss and gain, and some simple tips to help you get better quality of sleep.
Your Brain on Sleep
Throughout the day you are inundated with data. All your senses are taking in information, you’re trying to learn specific things, you read and listen to ideas, and during the night, specifically during REM sleep, your brain sorts through all the data it’s collected.
It determines what information is important and what isn’t. What it deems important, it strengthens the neural connections so you can have better recall.
One research study found that people given a one-hour nap after learning something new had 40% better recall eight hours later than those who did not nap.
One of the more important processes that happen in the brain is the clearing of toxins. Your brain cells shrink during the night which allows for cerebral spinal fluid to flow more freely between the cells, clearing out toxins that build up during the day.
Researchers have found specifically that the protein that is the precursor to Alzheimer’s disease is one of the toxins that is cleared out during the night.
Mood and Mental Health
One of the more common complaints that people who can’t sleep have is irritability. It turns out that not getting enough sleep is linked to emotional distress.
We process events during REM sleep and when we don’t get enough sleep, it seems to be particularly harmful to the consolidation of positive thoughts and memories. This seems to directly influence your mood and how you react in different situations.
One American Psychological Association survey found that just getting less than 8 hours of sleep made you almost twice as likely to lose your temper and yell at your kids.
In addition to being in a poor mood, poor sleep has been shown to be both a cause and consequence of mental health difficulties. About 50% of people with insomnia also have depression, anxiety, or psychological stress.
Your Body on Sleep
Deep sleep is what leaves you feeling rested, refreshed, and alert. If you’re not getting enough deep sleep, you will wake up feeling lethargic and tired, even if you got your regular amount of sleep.
Researchers are working on understanding one aspect of how and why sleep may help you have more energy by studying glucose (gives you energy) and adenosine (sleep neurotransmitter) levels in the brain and how they change through the day and night.
They’ve found that glucose levels decline during the day, while adenosine increases. During the night, the two reverse. More research is needed but it could be one of the ways your brain helps you sleep and have energy.
Your body increases the production of white blood cells during deep sleep to help you fight infections and diseases.
Studies show that people who don’t sleep well enough are more likely to get sick after being exposed to a virus and take longer to recover.
Your bodyregulates your hormones during deep sleep. Lots of hormones, including:
- Human growth hormone which maintains your metabolism, immunity, muscle development, and proteins in the body.
- Leptin, ghrelin, and insulin (your hunger hormones) which help convert food to energy and tell you when you’re hungry or full and if you need to regulate blood sugar or store fat.
- Cortisol (the stress hormone) which helps regulate other hormones in the body and wakes you up in the morning.
- Estrogen and progesterone which maintain your reproductive system and are signaled first thing in the morning by cortisol. These two hormones also affect melatonin production and your thyroid which are important for regulating your sleep cycle.
How Does Sleep Affect Weight Gain or Loss?
Causation vs. Correlation
When it comes to weight gain or loss, sleep is correlated but not necessarily causal. Meaning there are many factors that affect your weight that sleep can also affect. Exercising, eating right, and increasing your metabolic rate all contribute to healthy weight loss.
But if you don’t get enough sleep, you are less likely to have the energy and motivation to exercise. Research shows that people with insomnia tend to lead more sedentary lives than people who sleep through the night. This becomes a cyclical problem – less exercise reduces sleep drive; less sleep reduces energy to exercise. At TriFit Wellness, many clients report a lack of motivation to exercise when they are not sleeping well.
You’re also more likely to make poor food choices after a bad night of sleep. When the hormones leptin, ghrelin, and insulin aren’t properly regulated during sleep, you are more likely to crave carbohydrates and sugar.
If you’re tired, irritable, and lack energy, you have less patience, motivation, and the ability to think creatively. So, when it comes time to figure out what’s for dinner, you have a greater propensity to throw your hands in the air and order takeout. Likewise, you may lack the energy to put into cooking a healthy meal even if you know what you want to eat.
Your metabolism is affected by the food you eat, how much exercise you get, your age, genetics, and how much sleep you get each night. The easiest way to increase your metabolic rate is to eat healthfully, exercise regularly, and get good sleep. When you don’t have this combination, your metabolic rate can slow and thus lead to difficulties in losing weight.
Willpower vs. Sleep Cycle
Many people want to work out in the morning, so they resolve to wake earlier to exercise and often run out of steam in only a few weeks. This is not due to a lack of willpower, but a disruption to your natural sleep pattern.
Your sleep cycle, when you naturally want to go to sleep and wake each day, is genetic. A small portion of the population is early risers, or “Lions” in the chronotype language, who naturally want to get up at 5 or 6 in the morning. For most people, somewhere between 6 and 8 is more natural.
This cycle can be adjusted but takes a definite, concerted effort, and a good and exciting reason to get out of bed earlier day after day. If exercise is a chore, you’ll fall off the wagon quickly because you’re fighting your genetic rhythm.
So go easy on yourself.
Find a time that fits into your natural day-to-day schedule or when you feel your best energy-wise which for most people is between 10 am and 2 pm. Now, with many companies offering more flexible schedules and the ability to work from home, you can find personal training or group fitness studios who offer classes during these non-peak (before 8am or after 5pm) typical workout times.
Most Effective Tips to Improve Sleep
Set a Schedule
You’ve heard it before, and you’ll hear it again and again. Sticking to a sleep schedule is very important to getting good sleep. What you may not understand is why.
Your circadian rhythm is a 24-hour clock in which many processes occur. And it works, well, like clockwork.
In the morning, cortisol is released into your system to help wake you up. When you rise, begin to get active, and bright light enters your eyes, melatonin production stops.
This begins the cycle of your body temperature rising and falling (it fluctuates as much as 2⁰F over a 24-hour period). When the sun sets, melatonin production begins, and body temperature starts to decline.
At sleep-onset, digestion slows, and bowel movements are stopped.
This cycle of processes works in best harmony when they occur around the same time every day. When you change your sleep schedule on weekends by staying up later and sleeping in, you disrupt this balanced cycle just as if you traveled to another time zone.
One great benefit of sticking to the same schedule is you’ll start waking up naturally about when your alarm is set to go off. This should be everyone’s goal as it means you are not being startled awake in the middle of your sleep cycle which can make you feel groggier.
Practice Good Sleep Hygiene Habits
There are several habits that can improve the quality of your sleep.
- Keep your room cool and dark. You know it’s more difficult to sleep in the summer, that’s because your body temperature naturally drops overnight. The best temperature for sleeping is 63-67⁰F. Light and darkness are required to regulate melatonin production. The darker your room, the better your sleep.
- Beware of what you consume emotionally. Difficult conversations, engaging documentaries, and politically rife social media posts can keep you from sleeping if you have difficulty shutting down at night. Keep your content, and conversations light and easy in the hours before bedtime.
- Watch your food and beverages three hours before bed. Eating too close to bedtime can disrupt your sleep with indigestion and heartburn and can cause blood sugar to spike and plummet. Too many liquids before bed can have you getting up to the bathroom disrupting your sleep.
- Keep alcohol and caffeine consumption to a minimum. Although alcohol can put you to sleep at the beginning of the night, it reduces deep sleep making your sleep lighter and more easily disrupted later in the night. Caffeine on the other hand is a stimulant meant to wake you up and it can take anywhere from 6-12 hours to metabolize. The older you get, the harder it is and the longer it takes. Reduce or eliminate caffeine in the afternoon to help you sleep better.
Can’t Sleep? Don’t Toss and Turn
You might have heard that you should just lay in bed when you can’t sleep, and you will eventually fall asleep. This is some of the worst advice.
When you lay there, you are more likely to get anxious about not sleeping. This initiates the stress response which releases cortisol and adrenaline into your system. This is meant to prepare you for fight or flight by increasing muscle tension, heart rate, blood pressure, and brain waves.
Instead of relaxing and getting ready to sleep, you’re now ready for action.
One research study brought good sleepers into the lab to test this theory. Half were put into a room and told to have a good night. The other half were told that a cash prize would be awarded to the person who could go to sleep the fastest.
The results showed that the group with the cash prize took three times as long to go to sleep as the other group, due to increased stress hormones in their system.
Instead of tossing and turning and hoping to go to sleep, get up and do something relaxing for 20-30 minutes, or until you’re nodding off, and then try to sleep again. The key to this strategy is to do something other than trying to sleep, so just sitting up in bed to read can help.
There was a meme circulating a while ago that said, “Being an adult is all about being tired, telling people how tired you are, and listening to other adults tell you how tired they are.”
Our society today wears tiredness like a badge of honor or a right of passage.
This doesn’t have to be the case and shouldn’t be considered normal.
There are over 80 different sleep disorders that have been diagnosed by experts and it’s estimated that as many as 59% of the population has a sleep disorder of some kind. The main disorders are:
- Insomnia (30-35% of people) – taking an hour or more to go to sleep, or back to sleep after waking during the night.
- Sleep apnea (5-10% of people) – stopping breathing for 10 seconds or more multiple times during the night.
- Restless leg syndrome (7-10% of people) – A pain sensation felt in the legs that are alleviated by movement and get worse with fatigue.
- Hypersomnia/Narcolepsy (less than 4% of people) – being unable to stay awake during the day.
- Parasomnia (less than 1% of people) – acting in unusual ways while falling asleep or sleeping, such as sleepwalking or talking.
If you think you might have a sleep disorder, please seek help.
After struggling for over 30 years to sleep through the night, I can tell you there’s nothing better than a good night’s sleep.
Sleep & Insomnia Expert
Lana offers free Sleep Behavior Assessments for people who have trouble sleeping. If you or someone you know isn’t getting the rest you need, book an appointment here:https://www.lanawalshcoaching.ca/trifit-sleep-assessment
Download Lana’s complimentary PDF, 15 Healthy Things to do Before Bed here:https://www.lanawalshcoaching.ca/trifit-15-things-to-do