Weight Loss – How Does Sleep Affect Our Weight

A successful weight-loss journey is made up of many parts, but have you ever taken a moment to consider how important sleep is in this process? What happens if we don’t get enough sleep, and can weight-loss hypnosis help us in our journey?

Take a moment to watch people for 5 minutes or so, observing the population of an average high street in the UK. It will not take you long to come to the conclusion that many of the people you see don’t look particularly healthy. You may also link that to the number of places selling immediately-available high-calorie food, but that’s a discussion for another day.

The statistics

Although the statistics will vary slightly, the UK Parliament website gives us the following statistic: 28% of adults are classed as being obese. A further 36% are categorised as being overweight. We can therefore deduce that 64% of the population is not within a healthy weight range. Therefore, roughly only 4 in every 10 adults in the UK are classed as being a healthy weight. There’s no denying that as a nation we’re getting fatter. The consequence being that we are more susceptible to related diseases such as diabetes, heart attack, and stroke.

What we know causes weight gain

Most people will attribute their weight gain to a few basic factors, eating too much calorie-dense food and not taking enough exercise. This simplistic viewpoint was reinforced by government initiatives such as the ‘Eat Less, Move More’ campaign through their Change 4 Life promotion.

The government has more recently changed its approach slightly. It appears there is now less focus on weight loss and a greater emphasis on healthy eating. As such, a later campaign was entitled ‘Easy ways to eat well and move more’. Whether this campaign is successful in increasing the health of the nation remains to be seen. If it does, then the prevalence of weight-related diseases should hopefully reduce.

We can look at weight gain or weight loss solely as an energy balance. If we do it makes sense to suggest that by eating less and increasing exercise levels, we should lose weight. Conversely, if we eat more and exercise less, we should gain weight. I think most of us would have practical experiences of both these statements being true to some extent. The many millions of people worldwide who diet each year are testament to the fact that we can lose weight through consuming fewer calories. The problem with this as a long-term approach is that it doesn’t take into account any other variables.

Our primitive past

We all know that unfortunately by eating more calorie-dense food and by not expending those calories, it’s very easy to gain weight. Our body has an amazing ability to store fat. It’s a simple survival tactic that has evolved with our genus throughout our history. For millions of years, for our ancestors, the problem was not having unfettered access to high-calorie food. In fact, it was quite the opposite.

There was no snack cupboard in the kitchen, no Just Eat app on our phones, and no pressure to eat out socially. Instead, we were forced to hunt and gather what little food there was. We also didn’t have the ability to add other high fat and highly processed ingredients into the mix.

If we had a super-fast metabolic rate, we’d need to be constantly eating. A humming bird, for example, has an incredibly high metabolic rate. It has to consume its own body weight in nectar each day just to maintain its weight. Instead, we developed a way of storing the calories we consumed from our food as fat. This way, if we couldn’t find a food source on a particular day, we had some in reserve. Curse our ancestors!

We all know that limiting our calories, especially over short periods of time, can lead to weight loss. The science, however, doesn’t always stack up because often there are other attributing factors to consider. If it did, we would be able to sustain weight loss over a long period of time. In fact, we struggle to keep weight off, why?

Other considerations

Did you know that both current stress levels and your sleep pattern and routine play a major role in weight management? They control your ability to lose weight, your probability of gaining weight, and your likelihood of developing related diseases.

Sleep and weight gain

In his excellent book ‘Why We Sleep’, Matthew Walker raises awareness of the damage that a lack of sleep has on our health. He also explores the relationship between sleep and the relationship with blood sugar levels.

He points out that, sleeping less than 5-6 hours of sleep a night will increase your likelihood of gaining weight. Logically, if you are awake, you increase your chances of eating. Your body also becomes unable to manage the calories you have consumed as effectively.

The effect of insulin

Sugar is controlled in our blood stream by insulin. This hormone will trigger the cells of your body to absorb the glucose from the blood stream. Glucose is formed by your body when it breaks down the carbohydrates you eat. The cells in your body open up specific channels to allow the glucose to enter. In the case of diabetics, this channel doesn’t operate effectively, and they become immune to the effects of insulin. This leads to dangerously-high levels of sugar in the blood. If elevated over a sustained period of time, this can lead to kidney damage and sight loss.

After only 6 nights with 4 to 5 hours sleep, participants in a study were found to be 40% less effective at absorbing glucose. This would be enough for your GP to label you as being pre-diabetic. Chronic sleep deprivation is now one of the major contributors to type 2 diabetes.

The effect of short sleep on our hormones

When you short sleep, the probability of you gaining weight increases dramatically whilst the likelihood of you losing it decreases significantly.

There are two major hormones that control our appetite. Ghrelin is the ‘I’m hungry’ hormone, and leptin is the ‘I’m full’ hormone. Ghrelin is released in our gut as our stomach empties, and it signals our brain to increase our appetite. It’s a very useful hormone that stops us forgetting to eat, so we don’t starve to death. For our ancestors it drove them to get out of the cave to hunt or forage even in the bleakest of conditions.

Leptin, on the other hand, is produced in our fat cells and signals to the hypothalamus that we’re full. It’s essentially the opposite of ghrelin. Both work to help regulate our appetite and therefore our weight.

The effect of your current fat level

If we are overweight or obese, however, these hormones don’t work as intended. Our ghrelin levels are always raised. This means it doesn’t take long before our brain stimulates our appetite and we go off in search for food. We also become more resistant to leptin meaning that we are less in tune to the signals to stop eating. The result being that we consume more calories. A double whammy as far as weight gain is concerned.

Could things get any worse? Well actually, yes. They can get much worse. If you short sleep, defined as only getting 4 to 5 hours sleep a night, you will increase your levels of ghrelin. In addition, you will also lower your levels of leptin. So essentially you have increased your hunger hormone and lowered the hormone that is attempting to curb your hunger. You’ve lost your ability to control your hunger.

Extra calorie consumption

During an experiment, after only 4 days of short sleeping, participant’s hormone levels were so interrupted that that consumed an extra 300 calories the following day. If this is scaled up to a working year, ie it is presumed you can have a lie in at the weekend, that’s an extra 70,000 calories.

Convert that into mass and that’s roughly equivalent to a weight gain of a stone, each and every year.

A similar experiment was conducted where the participants slept for 8 hrs for 4 nights and then short slept for 4 nights. After each night’s sleep the participants were able to choose foods from a buffet and had access to a table offering calorie-dense foods.

Short sleeping resulted in the participants consuming an extra 330 calories each day as a result of increased ghrelin levels and lowered leptin levels. The short sleep also affected which foods were chosen, with the participants preferring the high fat/ high sugar foods. It was found that the participants were less able to think from their intellectual cortex and instead their primitive brain was guiding them to eat high calories foods.

In another study, the participants either enjoyed 8.5 hours’ bedtime or were only allowed 5 .5 hours. All groups lowered their calorie intake over a 14-day period to achieve a calorie deficit. As expected, all participants lost weight.

The unexpected twist

In the group that were restricted to 5.5 hours sleep, over 70% of the weight lost came from losing lean muscle mass. As far as long-term weight loss goes this is a disaster. Muscle is our calorie burning furnace. Having high levels of muscle mass increases our metabolic rate, meaning that we burn more calories even when at rest.

When you are not getting enough sleep the body will conserve fat and instead use muscle as an energy source. In the group that enjoyed 8.5 hours sleep, 50% of the weight lost came from fat.

Can we sleep ourselves thin?

So, can we sleep ourselves thin, and can solution focused hypnotherapy help? I would say with confidence that it’s not possible to sleep ourselves thin. It can, however, certainly give us the ability to not gain weight and increase our chances of keeping the weight off. After the participants in the above studies returned to having 7-8 hours of sleep a night, their hormone levels rebalanced themselves. This means that we are better able to control our hunger when awake.

If we are suffering with high stress levels, the thought of being able to achieve 7-8 hours of sleep may seem a long way off. Stress can make it difficult to get to sleep and will often lead to fretful interrupted sleep. We are prone to waking up early and struggling to get back to sleep. During the day our high stress levels means our primitive brain controls many of our thoughts and actions. We are therefore more prone to eat high-calorie foods in our mistaken believe that it’s necessary for our survival.

What can help?

Solution Focused Hypnotherapy is a very effective way of lowering stress and anxiety levels and, as a result you will quite quickly gain intellectual control over your food choices. You are then less driven by your food cravings and, in doing so, consume fewer calories. Coupled with this, by listening to a ‘Guided Relaxation’ download in bed you will increase your REM sleep time and improve your overall quality and length of sleep.

Perhaps if we are to enjoy a successful weight loss journey, then labelling it ‘Sleep More, Eat Less, Move More’ is more appropriate.

Ian Murton



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