Managing a healthy weight can be challenging, especially in the long term. It’s important to understand that diet is not the only factor that affects a weight management journey. In addition to nutrition, we can work on improving other habits in our daily lives. The relationship between sleep and body weight is complicated and is still being studied. However, associations between the two highlight the potential benefits of a good night’s sleep on being at a healthy weight. Continue reading to learn more about the relationship between sleep and weight, plus my favorite habits to optimize sleep!
Importance of Sleep
Sleep regulates brain function, stabilizes mood, and is a time when the body heals. It is extremely critical for physical and mental wellness. Improvements in your sleep quality can help you feel more energized, refreshed, and focused. While inadequate sleep can lead to low focus, presence, motivation, mood, and being easily distracted. Continued sleep deprivation leads to sleep deficiency which has been associated with an increased risk of obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and depression. Further, when we do not get sleep, our bodies are unable to properly clean out waste (metabolic waste, toxins). As a result, sleep directly affects our immune health.1
Sleep Deprivation & Eating Behaviors
Studies show a direct correlation between sleep deprivation and one’s eating behaviors. Getting less sleep at night can cause increased hunger throughout the day; increased hunger leads to a higher caloric intake. Food preference is also impacted by lack of sleep. Oftentimes, sleep-deprived people are more likely to crave and reach for higher carbohydrate, sugary, and fatty foods. Sleep also affects our hormones, including two in particular that are connected to our hunger cues. The first is Leptin. Leptin is associated with satisfaction and satiety. The next, Ghrelin, is released to send hunger signals to the brain when someone needs food or is not eating enough. When functioning on low sleep, Leptin production decreases, and Ghrelin production increases which also causes people to eat more.1
Driving Factors of Poor Sleep
There are many lifestyle factors that can influence poor sleep. As previously discussed, sleep can affect diet. However, the opposite can be true as well. Unbalanced eating patterns, including those high in refined carbohydrates and starches, cause fluctuations in blood sugar which can disrupt sleep. Refined carbohydrates include low fiber carb sources like white bread, white sugar, cookies, muffins, etc. The consumption of alcohol, caffeine, and sugar also cause poor sleep. Low levels of an important mineral, magnesium, is another diet-based factor that can impact sleep quality. Most Americans do not meet their dietary requirements for magnesium.2 Lack of magnesium may cause irritability and stress which do not help promote good sleep. A few ways to boost magnesium in your diet include consuming nuts (almonds, cashews, brazil nuts), seeds( pumpkin, flax, chia), leafy greens (spinach, kale, collard greens), legumes (lentils, beans, chickpeas, edamame), whole grains (oats, quinoa, shredded wheat), dark chocolate (70%+ cocoa), fish (salmon, halibut), fruit (avocado, banana, apple), vegetables (potatoes with skin, broccoli, carrots), greek yogurt (low-fat, low-sugar), and tofu. Chat with your doctor about a magnesium supplement if you feel that you may not be consuming enough through your diet (always ask your physician before taking a new supplement).
Healthy Bedtime Habits to Optimize Sleep
- Set a consistent sleep schedule. Try to get to bed at the same time every night and wake up at the same time each morning. This can help create a consistent sleep schedule – our bodies love consistency!
- Create regular bedtime rituals. Leave 10-15 minutes to do some pre-bed rituals that help you relax and wind down. (i.e. take a warm bath, read, listen to calming music, etc).
- Limit screen time. If possible, limit electronic devices (TVs, computers, smartphones, etc.) from the bedroom. Try to be off your screens at least 30 minutes before bed.
- Use your bedroom for sleep only. Keep the environment of your bedroom sleep-friendly. Set the lights low, the temperature cool (ideally 68 degrees), and keep the room quiet.
“Sleep.” The Nutrition Source, 14 Jan. 2022, https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/sleep/.
“Does Magnesium Help You Sleep?” Cleveland Clinic, Cleveland Clinic, 28 June 2021, https://health.clevelandclinic.org/does-magnesium-help-you-sleep/.
Co-Created by Caroline Depietri, Pilates Instructor and Nutrition & Psychology Student