Your efforts to stay in shape, or perhaps even shed a few pounds, probably come down to two key factors in your everyday life: exercise and diet. So when your 7 a.m. pre-work cardio sessions and your meticulously planned out meals for the week are accompanied by a stagnant, or even expanding, waistline, it can get to be more than just a little bit frustrating. But while this upsettingly familiar scenario might have you scrambling to figure out new approaches to your health and fitness routines, a better path towards reaching your wellness goals might be closer than you think.
first there’s the question of sleep…
As it turns out, when you’re doing everything right as far as exercising frequently and eating well, but still aren’t seeing positive results in your physique, it might be a sign that your body isn’t in need of a stricter regimen, but a stricter sleep schedule. According to a study from 2011, people who got less than 6 hours, or more than 8 hours, of sleep a night were less likely to meet weight-loss goals, regardless of their exercise and diet. This means that not only is getting too little sleep a foolproof way to sabotage your healthy lifestyle and your waistline, but so is getting too much.
then there’s stress.
Things get even more complicated when you throw stress into the mix, as participants in the study demonstrated that poor sleep accompanied by high stress levels resulted in even less weight loss than poor sleep alone. Not to mention that if waking up with fewer than 8 hours of sleep is turning into a trend, and not just a one-time glitch in your routine, chances are your stress levels are spiking due to tiredness. This relationship works both ways, as a large number of people would likely blame failure to get a good night’s sleep on stress in other areas of their life.
so what does it all mean?
When it comes to understanding how poor sleep and high stress levels contribute to weight gain or difficulty losing weight, it mostly comes down to hormones. While losing precious hours of sleep has been shown to stimulate the appetite-increasing hormone ghrelin in the body, it also causes a spike in the stress hormone cortisol that likewise makes you hungrier. The worst part is that the foods you end up craving as a result like contain higher percentages of unhealthy fats. Participants in the aforementioned 2011 study mostly increased their consumption of fatty foods like ice cream and fast food when they were stressed and sleep-deprived. For most of us, those are the exact foods we’re probably trying to steer clear of on a healthy diet.
In the end, what this all boils down to is really what you’ve known along: getting between 6 and 8 hours of sleep a night is the best way to maintain a healthy lifestyle and stay at the top of your game. And if keeping our waistlines in check means that we need to sleep in a bit longer every morning, we’ll find a way to manage. And we’re totally going to love every minute of it.
About Tamara Rahoumi
Tamara Rahoumi is a writer on The Path Editorial Team. She is a graduate of Rutgers University and is currently pursuing a master’s degree in magazine journalism at NYU. Her passion for wellness always has her researching the latest fitness trends, experimenting with recipes from superfood cookbooks, and working towards an overall healthier and happier lifestyle. In addition to reading her articles on The Path, you can follow her adventures on her lifestyle blog, The Curly Nomad.