Is sleep really the “secret sauce” fat loss ingredient for women over 40?
I know it sounds crazy. But you’ll be shocked at how much a difference of just one hour of sleep can change the shape of your body.
Look, don’t take my word for it–check out the science:
1) In 1986, the sleeping habits of more than 68,000 women nurses were studied over a period of 16 years. The findings indicated that those who slept 6 hours or less per night gained more weight than those who slept 7 hours or more.
The study controlled for diet and physical exercise, which means that neither of those factors could affect the results. This also indicates that the effects of weight gain due to sleep deprivation cannot be undone by diet and exercise. The only answer is to get enough sleep!
2) In 2012, a study conducted over a period of 6 years concluded that participants who increased their sleep duration from less than 6 hours per night to 7 to 8 hours per night were less likely to gain fat.
You see, sleep impacts how much you eat, your willingness to exercise consistently, and your ability to burn fat without losing excess muscle when you diet.
For women over 40, part of this has to do with hormones.
How Female Hormones Affect The Quality of Your Sleep
Estrogen and Progesterone are our ‘lady hormones’. Estrogen is predominantly a reproductive hormone. It’s responsible for the physical changes that turn a girl into a woman: growth of the breasts, pubic and underarm hair, and the beginning of the menstrual cycle. But estrogen is also responsible for keeping cholesterol under control.
Progesterone, also a reproductive hormone, helps prepare your body for conception and pregnancy, and it regulates your monthly menstrual cycle. It also plays a role in sexual desire.
Okay, those are the basics of these two hormones. But how do they affect your sleep?
Estrogen is known to increase REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep. This is the stage of sleep that restores your nervous system, and it also allows your brain to process information and store memories. You also have your most vivid dreams during REM sleep, and if you’re awakened in the midst of REM, you will be able to recall that dream imagery with great detail.
Progesterone, on the other hand, helps you fall asleep by inducing the feeling of sleepiness.
As you get closer to menopause, both estrogen and progesterone fall, and this can make it harder for you to go to sleep and stay asleep.
That’s very bad news if you’re trying to slim down, or even if you want to maintain a healthy, attractive bodyweight.
Why Sleep Deprivation Causes Weight Gain
Sleep deprivation increases your chances of becoming overweight or obese in several ways, but these are the most important ones:
- Lack of sleep disrupts the balance of key hormones that control appetite, so you may find yourself battling hunger and cravings more than is normal
- Not enough sleep impairs glucose tolerance (i.e. the ability of your body to metabolize ingested glucose and return to a baseline level of blood glucose), which can lead to your eating excess calories, as well as to a higher risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease
- When you don’t get enough sleep your body produces more cortisol, which can lead to weight gain, particularly around your midsection
Let’s go through these points in order.
First up, appetite. Leptin and ghrelin are your ‘appetite regulating’ hormones. One is appetite-inhibiting and the other is appetite-stimulating. When your leptin levels are high, you feel full and satisfied. When your ghrelin levels are high, you feel hungry.
Studies have proven that sleep deprivation messes with both these hormones. It basically works like this. When you’re sleep deprived, your ghrelin levels start to rise, and you feel ravenous all day long. At the same time, your leptin levels dip and your body doesn’t know when to stop eating. As you might imagine, this is a recipe for dietary disaster.
It gets worse when you combine it with point number two — glucose tolerance.
Glucose (commonly called sugar) is an important energy source for the cells and organs of your body. It comes from the foods we eat. In a normally functioning body, the system works like this. After eating a meal, your blood sugar (glucose) levels increase. In response to this, your pancreas releases just enough insulin to bring your glucose levels back down to an appropriate level.
But in an abnormally functioning system, too much insulin is released on a regular basis. This is referred to as “insulin resistance” — in other words, your body is becoming resistant to insulin.
It’s not necessary to know exactly how insulin resistance works. Just know that increased glucose levels significantly increase your risk of weight gain and your risk of developing diabetes. And lack of sleep has been shown to negatively impact blood sugar regulation. This can result in your body’s quickly building up its fat reserves. Think “belly, bum, hips and thighs” and you’ll have the idea.
Finally, we come to good old cortisol. It plays a role here too, because it’s related to stress.
In fact, cortisol is known as the “stress hormone” because your body releases it at times of stress, as part of the “fight or flight” survival mechanism. That’s a great thing if you’re being chased by a tiger. But it’s not so helpful if the daily stresses of life are causing you to walk around with a constant baseline of elevated cortisol. How does this tie to sleep? Lack of sleep is a stress on your body. It increases cortisol, which can cause weight gain, particularly around your midsection.
Now are you getting the picture?
Are you seeing why a good night’s sleep is so important for fat loss?
After poor sleep, the increase in your appetite for foods with high carbohydrate content is particularly strong. It’s as if your sleep-deprived brain is craving its primary fuel, glucose, which your body produces from carbs.
The research backs this up. In a revealing study, scientists at the University of Chicago allowed people to sleep 5.5 hours on one night and 8.5 on another and then measured how many free snacks they downed the next day. The participants ate an average of 221 calories more when sleepy—an amount that could translate into almost a pound gained in 2 weeks!
There IS Some Good News in All of This…
All of this sounds like very bad news for our overworked and overtired society.
But the good news is that fixing sleep problems is usually pretty easy.
In fact, there are 3 simple things you can do right before bed to improve the quality of your sleep.
I think you’ll be shocked at how much more relaxed they make you feel… and how much more restful and refreshing a night’s sleep you get from them. They’re even better than counting sheep! And they’re all yours on the next page…