Have you noticed when you change out of the usual pandemic attire like sweats or pajamas, that your ‘real clothes’ are a little snugger than a few months ago? Is your head spinning wondering how you seemingly effortlessly gained some extra pounds over the course of this pandemic? This blog post is going to help you understand the REASON you picked up some pounds over quarantine and will give you some sleep hacks that will help you get back on track! If you missed my last blog, it is full of some reasons on how stress may be impacting your Quarantine weight gain, as well as some quick tips on how to help overcome that part of the problem- however, stress is only one piece to this weight gain puzzle.
In today’s blog we’re diving deep into the next factor you might not realize is playing a role in your weight gain - SLEEP.
Understanding The Problem
Last blog post we talked about stress, but today I wanted to talk about the next hidden reason behind weight gain- SLEEP. It may seem counterintuitive to think that the more time you are up and awake and moving, the increased risk for weight gain, but researchers suggest there is a strong link between sleep restriction and obesity. When we mention sleep restriction the general assumption is less than 7 hours in studies.
Okay so what does a lack of sleep have to do with your jeans not fitting the same?
Although the exact mechanism cannot be pin-pointed for each individual, in general there are a group of factors associated with a lack of sleep which can result in increased weight gain. To start, one may think that getting less sleep would mean more activity because you’re awake longer and therefore using more calories. However, studies have found either no increase or very small increases in energy expenditure with sleep deprivation. If you think about it, you’re probably not staying up late to work out very often or go for a walk, but more likely you’re watching Netflix or lying in bed or on the couch. Research has actually shown a decrease in physical activity if anything throughout the day in those getting less sleep. This is most likely due to fatigue from a lack of sleep.
Secondly, if we’re awake for more hours of the day, we tend to eat more. We eat more food because we’re awake for longer and we tend to snack more at night. But also, the caloric density of the food we consume is higher. When our bodies are fatigued, we tend to reach for high fat and carbohydrate-rich foods. Insufficient sleep also can trigger the “reward” areas in your brain to crave highly processed foods like chocolate and chips. Think about the last time you had a bad sleep, what did you eat the next day when you were exhausted. Did you wake up and want chocolate chip waffles or a green smoothie? Next time you have a poor sleep, try to resist that urge to go for the easy, refined carbohydrate meal and opt in for a more nutrient-dense meal- even if you may not feel like it in the moment.
So, less physical activity combined with the increased calorie intake associated with sleep deprivation increases the risk of obesity from a simplistic calorie in and out perspective.
Another reason a lack of sleep leads to weight gain is disruption in appetite hormones that regulate feelings of hunger and satiety. Ghrelin is a hormone which triggers the feeling of hunger (stomach rumbling ). Whereas leptin signals our body to let us know we are full. With a lack of sleep, our ghrelin levels rise while leptin levels drop. This can cause higher calories to be consumed due to experiencing strong hunger at the same time that one feels less full after eating. Leptin and Grhelin can lead to acute changes in how you’re feeling. If you wake up from a poor sleep and you find you’re constantly feeling hungry all day and looking to snack- your ghrelin levels may be higher. To help rid yourself of this hunger, try to focus on foods with higher fibre and protein content such as greek yogurt, rolled oats, meats, tofu, and legumes. These will help your body feel more full. Simple carbohydrates such as toast or a granola bar may actually lead to increased feelings of hunger due to changes in your blood sugar levels.
Poor sleep can also increase the storage of fat in the belly area, higher body mass index, and decreased insulin sensitivity. Meaning, our body has to secrete out more insulin than normal. If you remember from the first blog when we talked about stress and the role of insulin. Insulin’s job is to take sugar out of the blood and store it as fat. When this fat accumulates, we start to notice it on our bodies. Noticing high insulin levels is less intuitive than the increases in hormone leptin and ghrelin. So you may want to see a naturopathic doctor in order to have some testing done to see if your insulin levels are chronically high. If we can solve the insulin problem, you are one step closer to getting rid of the quarantine 15 - while improving your health!
Lastly, research shows that our ability to make decisions is impacted from a lack of sleep. Therefore, even if you are aware of the impacts that poor sleep has on your hormones and you try to avoid the increase in calorie dense foods, this decision is also more difficult after a poor night’s sleep.
So, we’re now eating higher calorie foods, for longer periods in the day and storing these as fat. It’s fairly simple to see how a lack of sleep can cause weight gain.
Okay so we know that sleep disruption can lead to weight gain. But why did this increase throughout COVID-19?
Again, this is going to be different for everyone but there are several reasons as to why your sleep may be disrupted right now. First of all, as I went into detail about in the first blog, we are all very stressed right now. Stress leads to an increase in cortisol. Near the end of the day as we are getting ready to sleep, our cortisol levels should be very low. We need these levels low in order to fall asleep. With high stress and subsequent high cortisol levels- our sleep suffers. Plus, we all know how it feels to lay in bed stressed, tossing and turning, trying to find a comfortable position, heart racing and already feeling anxious about being tired the next day- it’s not fun.
Secondly, our daily routines have been disturbed. Our bodies like routine and something as simple as a change in routine can impact sleep. Part of this change in routine for most, is not going into work. This means, less movement, less time outside commuting, less social interaction and a decrease in the overall excitement and activity in your day. These things help tire us out. And even if you feel mentally exhausted at the end of the day, your body may not be physically tired. To top this off, gyms are closed and there are less ways to exercise. So, we’re not moving enough during the day, our bodies may not think we are tired enough to sleep.
Some individuals working from home are also now spending more time in their bedrooms doing work if there is not enough space to have your own desk set up somewhere else. Bedrooms should be associated with sleep and sex only. They should be a calming place where your body comes to relax. Now, people are doing work or school in their rooms, creating a more hectic environment that their body associated with stress rather than tranquility. The types of food we eat can impact our sleep. With more snacking occurring during COVID, especially near bed time, sleep can be impacted.
Alcohol intake has also increased during the pandemic. Alcohol is an interesting one because having a glass of alcohol can actually make it easier for us to fall asleep, however, the quality of our sleep suffers. So, maybe you’re falling asleep fine, but you’re relying on your glass of wine to help you and still waking up fatigued? The alcohol is impacting your sleep.
Lastly, for the most part, we’re spending a lot more time in front of screens right now. Screen time can impact our sleep due to the blue light that is emitted from screens. This blue light signals a gland in our brain, telling it that it is morning time due to the bright light exposure. Our brains are then confused and it makes it more difficult to fall asleep.
Okay, so we know that stress, change in routines, our environments, nutrition, alcohol consumption and screen time are all impacting our sleep which can increase our risk of weight gain. So what can we do to improve your sleep in order to be healthier and lose weight?
Here are 8 sleep hacks to optimize your sleep for weight loss:
Tip 1: Take Breaks To De-Stress
The first thing we can do is try to reduce stress maybe by taking breaks throughout the day when you’re feeling the stress build up inside of you. Or by practicing some mindfulness or deep breathing exercises. For some more tips on this, go check out part one of the blog series all about stress.
Tip 2: Make Your Bedroom Relaxing
Secondly, we need to make our rooms a more relaxing environment. So, if possible, try to not have your work station set up in your room. If there is no other alternative for you right now, try to at least not do work on your bed. Try taking some calls outside on a walk if you can. At night, when you are in your room to sleep, make sure your room is dark, quiet and cool. Try using a fan both to keep your room cool and to help block out any noise. If you don’t have good blinds, try using an eye mask at night to block out any light.
Tip 3: Avoid Caffeine Before Bed
If you’re struggling to sleep it’s good to try and keep all caffeinated beverages to before noon.Remember, this isn’t only coffee and energy drinks but this includes black tea, green tea and chocolate! Try replacing caffeinated teas with herbal teas and caffeinated coffee with decaf coffee if you really like the taste of it.
Tip 4: Exercise Daily
Although it is more difficult right now, try to make sure you’re exercising for at least 20 mins each day. You can do this in any way possible. You can try breaking it up throughout the day into 1-minute chunks like we talked about in video number 1! If you’re struggling with this one, make sure to stay tuned for my next video where I talk about all things movement and exercise.
Tip 5: Limit Screen-Time
I know it may be out of your control how much you’re on screens these days so try to limit your leisure screen time. Instead of watching a movie after dinner, try a different hobby such as playing a game with someone in your house, go for a walk, draw, knit, or read. If you absolutely have to be on screens right up until bedtime it might be worth it for you to invest in a pair of blue blocker glasses. These glasses block out the blue light coming off of your screen so your brain doesn’t get confused and think it is day time.
Tip 6: Limit naps
Even if you’re tired, try to limit napping throughout the day as this can impede your sleep at night. Also, if you cannot sleep at night get out of bed. It isn’t good to toss and turn in bed. When we do this too often, we start to associate our bed with another type of stress. So get out of bed and go read or do a quiet activity like an adult colour book or knitting, if you cannot sleep.
Tip 7: Create a Night-Time Routine
What I recommend is to create a bedtime routine for yourself. So, about 2 hours before bed dim down the lights, and screen brightness or turn screens completely off. About an hour before bedtime, start to wind down and do some sort of mundane or calming activity. Fold some laundry, have a bath, read a book, do something that is non-stressful and preferably not in front of a screen. Then only as you start to feel tired, get into bed.
Tip 8: Supplements for Sleep
Certain supplements can help promote sleep and assist those who are struggling. Always consult your healthcare provider before introducing any sleep aid.
Magnesium is a good pre- bedtime supplement as it can help calm the mind and also promotes muscle relaxation and most people are actually magnesium deficient! You want to make sure you’re selecting the correct form of magnesium. There are several different types of magnesium but the most common forms are magnesium citrate and magnesium bisglycinate. A citrate form can cause loose stools, this can be helpful for those struggling with functional constipation, however if you tend towards looser stools you want to steer clear of magnesium citrate. You may have seen the powdered form of magnesium “calm” this is magnesium citrate. Magnesium bisglycinate however, is a more absorbable form and better for those with loose bowels. We like CanPrev’s Magnesium Bisglycinate at 200mg for this. Always check with your own healthcare provider to make sure you’re taking the correct form.
Melatonin is probably the most popular sleep supplement. Melatonin helps regulate the sleep-wake cycle which is the cycle disrupted by screens. Perhaps taking melatonin and wearing blue blockers are enough to improve sleep in those whose sleep has been impacted by excess screen time. Melatonin is an amazing supplement but your body can build a tolerance to it. It is best to take breaks from melatonin after a few weeks of use. Melatonin helps signal your body to sleep, so when taking melatonin, you want to take it about an hour before bed- NOT in the morning. Individuals all tolerate melatonin differently, always start with the lowest possible dose so you are not taking more than you need. Sometimes if you take too much melatonin it can make you feel groggy the next day. If you find you’re taking melatonin and it isn’t helping with your sleep, this means that it may not beel your circadian rhythm that is off, but an underlying problem and you should see your naturopathic doctor for a more detailed workup.
What Does This All Mean?
Our body needs adequate sleep in order to function. When we don’t have adequate sleep- like a lot of us right now- we end up consuming a less nutritious but more calorically dense diet, we are less motivated to move our bodies, and our hormones get out of whack, all which set us up for easy weight gain. Therefore, by doing a detox diet or a quick fix for weight loss, we may not see great results. We need to focus on improving our sleep in order to optimize our body’s environment for weight loss.
Just like with improving our stress, when we improve our sleep we’re not only addressing the weight gain but you will also feel better in your day to day life and reduce your risk for several other health issues. Poor sleep is also associated with many chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, asthma, Parkinson’s disease, hyperthyroidism, Alzheimer’s disease and cancer. So, by improving your sleep, just like reducing stress- you’re making a larger impact on your health and life.
We hope these tips help you create better sleep habits, even in stressful times, and that these tips will help make Better Health Simple.