Make it a habit to go to bed at the same time nightly and you’ll have a better body composition. Adequate sleep duration is linked to less belly fat (both visceral and subcutaneous) and a leaner body overall. It’s also essential not to vary the amount of sleep you get from day to day. Catching up on sleep on the weekends or other days after you’ve burned the candle at both ends puts you at greater risk for weight gain.
The reason is that sleep deprivation, even for a night or too, will get in the way of the body’s natural ability to maintain homeostasis. This leads to altered stress hormone levels that hinder rest and recovery. Longer periods of sleep deprivation or a very unbalanced sleep schedule will further hamper the body’s ability to regulate the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis of glands that help us deal with stress. This can lead to elevated cortisol, which is linked to fat gain and a poor body composition.
A new study in the journal Sleep Breath looked at the sleep habits of a large group of over 20,000 participants. Participants who had radically varied sleep patterns, sleeping for a few hours some nights and more than 8 hours other nights, had the greatest increase in body mass index over the 3-year study period. Participants who got the same amount of sleep every night, generally at least 6.5 hours, had the least increase in body mass index. The key is to go to bed at the same time, preferably following an early-to-bed, early-to-rise pattern, and sleep the same amount every night.
Varying your sleep patterns will not only stress the body, putting you at risk for fat gain, but it will also lead to poor brain function. Although, it’s reasonable to suggest that varied sleep patterns may be associated with poorer lifestyle and health choices, the association between weight gain and varied sleep in the Sleep Breath study was independent of all other risk factors.
Another new study using a Japanese population in the International Journal of Obesity found that men who slept less had much greater waist circumference and greater belly fat than those who got adequate sleep. Among women in the study, there was no direct correlation between sleep duration and body composition, although the women who got less than 5 hours of sleep a night (the least amount measured) had significantly greater visceral belly fat than women who got more than 5 hours a night.
Five things you can do to ensure you get adequate sleep include the following:
1) Go to bed at the same time every night. Set a schedule that is regular and you can follow during the week and on the weekend. Make it a priority and stick to it even if you don’t feel tired. Your body will adjust.
2) Do things in the hour or half-hour before your set bedtime to help you relax. For example, reading, meditating, and filling out a log of what you are grateful for can all be helpful to calm your mind and get your body ready to sleep.
3) Turn off all screens during the hour or half-hour before bedtime. Really, it will make a huge difference in your ability to go to sleep and get good rest. Turn off computers, TVs, phones, and any other screens for at least the final 30 minutes before you hit the sack.
4) Have a very small snack with carbs about an hour before bedtime. Carbs can help elevate serotonin—the neurotransmitter that helps you feel good, calm, tired.
5) Ensure you are taking adequate magnesium. The tip from yesterday talked about the critical importance of magnesium for health and highlighted the fact that the average American gets less than 25 percent of the magnesium they need a day from the diet. Magnesium calms the nervous system and will help you get adequate rest and achieve a lean body composition.
Yi, s., Nakagawa, T., et al. Short Sleep Duration in Association with CT-Scanned Abdominal Fat areas: The Hitachi Health Study. International Journal of Obesity . February 2012. Published Ahead of Print.
Kobayashi, D., Takahashi, O., et al. High Sleep Duration Variability is an Independent Risk Factor For Weight Gain. Sleep Breath