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Sleep and Weight Loss

August 21, 2015

Looking to lose weight?  Sleep may be your answer.  We all know that if you don’t get enough sleep, you will get sick. But what if it affects your weight as well? Research indicates that lack of sleep not only affects our immune system but can also increase the risk of infections, heart disease and obesity.

How can are sleep and weight loss linked?  

Researchers are looking into that question. It seems that people who don’t get enough sleep experience weight gain compared to those getting a full 7-8 hours.  There are several theories and factors that come into play.  Lack of sleep may be altering appetite hormones ghrelin and leptin.  Firstly, the sleep-deprived may have higher levels of ghrelin, the hunger-inducing hormone, and less of leptin, the hormone that tells us we are full.  Sheer will power will not keep you away from those cheese puffs at 10 pm if your hormones are working against you!

Another theory for weight gain may be lack of energy. The couch may look very appealing after a sleepless night and long day at work, leading to less energy output.  You may not feel like cooking meals, potentially leading to quick stops at fast food or restaurants, or skipping meals. The body typically needs energy every 3-4 hours. The longer you stay awake, the more likely the body will be ready to “refuel”.

Foods to Enhance Sleep

Limited research makes it difficult to draw firm conclusions, but some small studies provide promising insight into food as potential sleep aids.

Tart cherries and cherry juice may increase melatonin, a sleep-enhancing hormone. They also contain antioxidants and phytochemicals that may influence sleep. Another study found that eating two kiwi fruit an hour before bedtime improved sleep.

Drinking a glass of warm milk before bed might be helpful for some. Melatonin found in cow’s milk may aid sleep, although research on the topic is mixed.

A deficiency in magnesium or B vitamins can negatively impact both sleep quality and wakefulness. Make sure to include foods high in magnesium like almonds, spinach, cashews and peanuts. B vitamins are widely found in protein foods like fish, poultry, meat, eggs and dairy.

Tryptophan, an amino acid, influences the production of neurotransmitters in the brain that impact sleep. Tryptophan has to compete with other amino acids to pass the blood brain barrier. The amount of tryptophan in food is typically not high enough to significantly impact neurotransmitters, though some groups have made suggestions. One group of researchers advocates eating 300 grams (11 ounces) of turkey or 200 grams (7 ounces) of pumpkin seeds to get enough tryptophan in the blood to aid with sleep.  That translates to more than ¾ of a pound and 330 calories from turkey, and 1200 calories from pumpkin seeds.  These are unrealistic quantities for weight control and could result in heart burn if eaten close to bedtime.

While some foods enhance sleep, other can make it more difficult.  Alcohol and caffeine are two culprits that disrupt sleep.  Try not to drink caffeine after lunch, and limit alcohol if you experience interrupted sleep.

The take-home message? Poor sleep negatively impacts weight. Try to sleep 7-8 hours each night for best results. Go to bed instead of having that night snack. It won’t hurt to try warm milk, tart cherries or kiwi to see if any help you sleep, and make sure you are eating a balanced diet to include foods high in magnesium and B vitamins. Limit caffeine, especially in the evening and pay attention to alcohol and how it affects your sleep. An overall healthy diet containing fruits, vegetables, whole grain and low fat protein sources is a great start towards a restful night.

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