Unfortunately, weight loss seems to be a subject intrinsically linked with fads. As a result, every year some crazy new fitness regimen or dieting trend gains popularity.
These fads usually get a few celebrity endorsements and, as they gain more and more media attention and momentum, millions of people are sucked in, like leaves in the slipstream of a freight train.
It is remarkable to think that, in this, the information age, with reliable scientific data so easy to come by, so many people succumb to fallacies, superstition and fitness voodoo, going to extreme lengths, such as cutting out vital food groups or choosing to subsist solely on liquids.
The facts are simple. Great health does not require you to push your body to extremes, if anything the opposite is true. Health is normally found in the middle ground, the happy median between extremes. It’s about doing simple, everyday things right.
There is no better example of this than sleep. We spend one third of our lives asleep and yet, for many of us, the sleeping habits we have developed are extremely detrimental to our health. Research has found that sleep problems can be responsible for a huge variety of worrying conditions from high blood pressure, to binge eating and even serious mental health problems such as depression.
One of the most obvious ways in which sleep dominates our health is that, if we find ourselves feeling fatigued during the day time, we’re very unlikely to be hitting the gym. REM, or Rapid Eye Movement, is the final stage of sleep we go through before waking. Not getting enough REM sleep increases the level of exercise blood lactates, the substance our body produces while we exercise that eventually makes us feel too tired to continue. Therefore, if you miss out on the required amount of REM sleep you’ll feel all the pain of a workout, without getting any of the gains!
The relationship between sleep and exercise works both ways, in a sort of benevolent spiral. Not only does a good level of sleep help you exercise the next day, it helps make the most the workout you’ve already done. This is because the more you exercise, the higher the proportion of the night you spend in ‘deep’ sleep, the stage of sleep in which growth hormones are released and in which muscle recovery occurs. The average person spends about 13% of his/her sleep in the ‘deep sleep’ stage, but for an athlete this can be increased up to 25-35%.
While these links between physical fitness and sleep are well established, the links between sleep and our eating habits are, while less well known, equally important.
Recent research has shown that poor levels of sleep can lead directly to the development of binge eating habits. Why is this? The reasons are manifold, but it largely comes down to the two hormones, ghrelin and leptin, which regulate our appetite.
Ghrelin is the hormone which stimulates appetite. It’s job is to tell us when we’re hungry and remind us to eat before our body exhausts itself. Leptin, on the other hand, does the opposite job, informing us when we have received enough nutrients by making us feel full. In recent years their have actually been a number of documentaries made about people born without the ability to produce leptin, who can never feel satisfied. No matter how much they eat, always feel hungry.
This rather miserable state of affairs is a very extreme condition that people are born with, however, lack of sleep creates a similar sort of imbalance. Not getting enough sleep leads to less leptin and more ghrelin being produced. As a result you’ll feel hungrier than usual even if you go on an eating binge, a very unhelpful situation for anyone attempting to diet.
Furthermore, not sleeping hampers your body’s ability to metabolize carbohydrates and causes high blood levels of glucose, which in turn leads to higher insulin levels and greater body-fat storage. So, whatever your diet, a lack of sleep will worsen the effect of the food you take in.
If you get the right amount of sleep (normally 7-8 hours) you could find yourself equipped with a powerful weight loss tool that also enhances your mood, happiness and levels of energy. Not bad considering all you have to do is lie down!
About the author: While trying to advise people on the best options when it comes to gym membership, Jonathan Dempsey also has an avid interest in weight loss and the factors that play a part in the success or failure of a regime. He believes that good education is the key to a healthy lifestyle.
Credits: Photo courtesy of Evert-Jan van Scherpenzeel.