3 Ways Short Sleep Is Sabotaging Your Weight Loss Goals And What We Can Do About It

lack of sleep sabotages weight loss goals

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We, at GOOD IDEA, like to set goals. Whether your sights are set on landing that promotion at work, becoming more active, spending more time with family, or improving your health, we support you in striving to become your best self. While we may not be able to help with your promotion or family time, we can certainly help when it comes to metabolic health.  If your goals do, in fact, involve an aspect of health, you are in good company. The top three New Year’s resolutions of 2023 are: to exercise more, eat healthier, and lose weight.

weight loss help

This article will be specifically geared toward those of us who would like to focus on weight loss. Instead of concentrating on the generic “diet and exercise” recommendations (which are still incredibly important), we would like to throw another suggestion into the mix, sleep. Specifically, how sleep impacts blood sugar regulation and weight loss goals. We will dive into the science of how sleep loss impacts weight, discuss what we can do to mitigate the metabolic challenges that can accompany a restless night, and conclude with ways in which we can utilize diet, exercise, and sleep together to reach our weight loss goals.

Sleep And Weight Maintenance

Sleep loss has a significant impact on the number we see on the scale.  The link between sleep loss and weight gain involves three main areas: (1) changes in glucose metabolism, (2) insulin sensitivity, and (3) appetite regulation.

Glucose Metabolism 

sleep alters glucose metabolism

The regulation of our glucose levels helps to determine our energy levels, food cravings, and mood.  Even restricting a single night of sleep to four hours has a significant impact on our glucose metabolism.  This change in glucose levels means that we are more likely to have large fluctuations in blood sugar, making us feel suddenly starving.  This leads to impulsive food choices and we are more likely to grab something quick and easy (which is usually processed or high in sugar) rather than taking the time to make or find a healthy alternative.  When we make these quick choices we head down a glucose rollercoaster. The sudden spikes in blood sugar induce an equally fast glucose dive. This dive leads to sugar cravings and we start the entire glucose spike and dive process all over again. Eventually, this results to added weight on the scale.

The good news is that we do not need to resign ourselves to poor glucose metabolism if we occasionally fall short in the sleep department. A few strategies to help regulate our glucose metabolism include: drinking a GOOD IDEA, performing high-intensity interval exercise (which will also help burn calories and achieve weight loss goals), and selecting healthy food options that stabilize blood sugar. GOOD IDEA is a functional beverage designed to reduce post-meal blood sugar spikes and decrease those dramatic glucose swings. Drink 1/3 of a can of GOOD IDEA before your meal and finish the can with your food in order to help stabilize blood sugar levels.

When we are tired, getting exercise is probably the last thing on our minds.  However, it is arguably one of the most effective ways to speed toward our weight loss goals.  High-intensity interval training (HIIT) is the best option for metabolic benefits. It helps to burn the most calories and has been shown to reduce the glucose dysregulation that accompanies a poor night of sleep. However, realistically, any exercise will be helpful.  Moving can help us burn a few calories, keep our metabolism in check, and help us to sleep better the following night. 

Consuming foods that help to keep blood sugar levels consistent will make it easier for our bodies to metabolize glucose. Reducing the consumption of carbohydrates on their own (aka “naked carbs”), processed foods, and sweet drinks can all aid in our metabolic health efforts. Meal sequencing, or eating our food in a specific order, dictates how the body responds to our meal. Eating vegetables first, protein and fat second, and starches/sweets last can help to reduce blood sugar spikes.  

Insulin Sensitivity 

insulin sensitivity and sleep

Insulin is a hormone that helps to keep glucose in check.  It works to change the glucose we consume (via sugars, starches, etc.) into usable energy.  When we do not get enough sleep, our body is not able to respond to insulin efficiently.  Since we are not able to properly convert the incoming food into energy, our body stores it as fat.  This extra stored fat can hinder our weight loss goals.

Chromium picolinate, an ingredient in GOOD IDEA, is a mineral that has been shown to increase insulin sensitivity and efficiency. This allows our body to more effectively transport energy into the cells. Thus, consuming chromium picolinate can help to increase insulin sensitivity during times when we may have had a poor night of sleep. In this way, we can help our weight goals stay on track.

Appetite Regulation 

hunger hormones and weight loss

Ghrelin and leptin are two hormones that can sabotage our dieting efforts.  Ghrelin (the hunger hormone) is increased and leptin (an appetite suppressant) is decreased when we are short on sleep. This means that we are more likely to feel hungry (even when our bodies do not necessarily need the calories for fuel).  It also means that we are less likely to feel that satisfaction that triggers us to stop eating when we are full.  This can lead to poor food choices and consuming many more calories than we actually need.

The timing and composition of our meals can cause ghrelin and leptin levels to change and aid in our weight loss efforts. Making a few dietary changes, like consuming more protein has been shown to reduce ghrelin levels and increase leptin. Selecting foods rich in omega-3 fats (like fatty fish, nuts, flaxseed, and avocados) can also help leptin to function more efficiently.

Can We Sleep Our Way Thin? 

sleep and weight loss

While sleeping our way to a better weight sounds like a wonderfully easy option, regrettably, it is not feasible.  However, getting the recommended amount of sleep will certainly help to keep our metabolism functioning properly, reduce the likelihood of us making impulsive food choices, and aid in our weight maintenance efforts.

While not every night of sleep will be perfect, just one extra hour per night can have a dramatic effect on our metabolic health and insulin sensitivity.  For those times we are short on sleep, here are a few strategies we can use to stay on track with our health goals. Consume foods high in protein and lower in carbohydrates (e.g., no candies, starches, or processed foods). This swap can help to stabilize our blood sugar and avoid sudden cravings for calorically dense foods.  Make and freeze a few healthy meals so there is something healthy on hand when you get hungry.  Consume higher protein foods to help ghrelin and leptin to function properly, meaning you will stay full longer and are more likely to have an overall lower caloric intake for the day (which is a win on the scale).  Incorporate some physical activity into your day. Exercise helps to utilize some of the glucose in the blood to fuel your workouts. It takes glucose out of the bloodstream and puts it to use for your muscles.  This helps to bring the concentration of glucose in the blood down to normal ranges.  With a few dietary and physical activity suggestions we hope to empower you with the knowledge needed to have your healthiest year yet in 2023.


Author: Dr. Colleen Gulick