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Sleep deprivation and weird sleeping patterns can both, research has shown, make you gain weight or interfere with weight loss efforts. What do you need to know?

More than two-thirds of Americans are, data suggests, overweight or obese — and depending on where they live, up to 44 percent of US residents are also sleep deprived, averaging less than seven hours a night of shut-eye. If that sounds like random and completely unrelated trivia-type information, to which we may as well add a sentence about the number of Americans with blue eyes or tattoos, think again. Your quality and duration of sleep actually have an awful lot to do with your weight. 

Are you, like me, trying to lose weight? You're probably picking your nutritional and physical activity habits apart to see where you could make the kinds of improvements that will ultimately lead to both weight loss and better health. That's great, but you're going to want to take a deeper look at your sleeping patterns, too, if you want to achieve the best results possible. Here's what you need to know.

How sleep affects your weight: What can science tell us?

A bunch of studies investigating how sleep quality and duration may impact weight, weight gain, and weight loss, have found that:

  • People who sleep less than eight hours a night are less likely to lose significant amounts of weight than those who get more sleep, even where both follow calorie-restricted diets. 
  • Poor-quality sleep, in which a person suffers from insomnia, awakens frequently, works night shifts, or naps during the day, is also likely to mess with weight loss goals — especially in older people who also have metabolic syndrome. 
  • Even if you do lose weight (as in, the scale goes down), you may see more modest reductions in your waistline compared to better sleepers, if you sleep less long or have weird sleep patterns. 
  • These phenomena can partially be explained by the fact that sleep-deprived people are tired, and as such more likely to turn to high-calorie foods in a bid to gain energy, and less likely to go exercise. 
  • There's another explanation too, mind you — disturbances in your sleep/wake patterns (or circadian rhythm) may also cause hormonal and biological changes in your body that ultimately impede fat oxidation, an key factor when it comes to weight loss success. 

 

In short, people who don't get enough sleep or whose sleeping patterns are unusual or dysfunctional may gain weight because of it. If they're trying to lose weight, their sleeping rhythm may explain why their results are less encouraging than those of people who do get adequate sleep. 

There are two more interconnected factors to consider. Stress and depression can both lead to weight gain — with stressed-out folks often turning to comfort foods and a portion of clinically depressed people experiencing appetite increases while others lose their appetites. Stress and depression can also, of course, stand in the way of a good night's sleep. In these cases, mental health, sleep quality and duration, and weight are three things that should be worked on together. 

Is your sleep kind of messed up? Tips for a better night's rest that may also help the pounds melt off

Folks who aren't sleeping enough hours or have poor quality of sleep can — assuming they don't have a sleep-related disorder like insomnia or sleep apnea, or are working night shifts — take some proactive steps to increase the duration and quality of their sleep. These steps are collectively referred to as "practicing good sleep hygiene". They won't all work for you personally, but see if you might be able to benefit from any of them. 

General tips for better sleep would include going to bed and getting up at the same time each day, always making sure this allows for seven or eight hours in total, but also only going to bed when you feel tired. Spending lots of time in bed awake, especially with screens, may mess your sleep up even more. A slightly colder room temperature is optimal for sleeping, so turn the thermostat down or use a fan or air-conditioning. If bright lights from outside bother you, consider a sleeping mask. If it's too quiet, a white noise machine may be helpful. 

Tips for better sleep hygiene that will also directly help with weight loss would include:

  • Eat a healthy and balanced diet. Don't go to bed after a heavy and frankly over-the-top meal — and the best way to make sure is not to eat such meals. Don't go to bed feeling hungry either. A small healthy snack like some nuts, carrots, or a glass of milk an hour or so before bed can work wonders. 
  • Steer clear of alcohol before bed. It acts as a depressant and actually makes for worse sleep. Alcohol also consists of mostly empty calories, and anyone seriously trying to lose significant amounts of weight would do well to keep it to a minimum or avoid it altogether. Going alcohol-free is also good for your general health. 
  • The same goes for caffeinated beverages, in this case because they're stimulants. Seriously cutting back or just avoiding both sodas and coffees with sugar will also help you with weight loss. 
  • Exercising about four hours before bedtime will help you sleep better. Regular physical activity is also, obviously, going to help you burn calories. 

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