Time for Bed!

If ever you needed a legitimate reason to sleep more, then the March challenge is for you.  This month’s challenge focuses on improving our sleep, so that we can wake feeling more rested and ready to take on the day.  So, it is timely to look a little deeper about how sleep affects weight loss.

Sleep is just lovely isn’t it. I absolutely love sleeping. Those lovely, snuggly, cosy bed sleeps and the dozing off in the armchair on a cold Sunday afternoon sleeps, even those drooly, head lolling to the side, sunbed sleeps on the beach with the sound of the waves crashing and the gulls calling.  And whilst the latter might be a little bit embarrassing, especially if you have the odd snore, they are like a little power snooze to get you through the rest of the day.

However, we do know that lots of people struggle with sleep for one reason or another. A noisy snoring partner, children who think its playtime at 3am, or an overactive brain that just won’t shut down.   For those that do struggle, we really do recommend that you try our sleep challenge for the month. As with anything ‘lifestyle’, sleep is a learned habit, and we hope that over the course of the month, we can help you start to get into a better sleep routine and start to reap all the benefits of what sleep can do for us.

If you haven’t signed up yet, why not sign up to our March Challenge and just see what benefits you get from a good night’s sleep.

A Good Night’s Sleep

But what is a good night’s sleep? Well this varies depending on your age, sex and health but generally speaking, the Sleep Council recommend that:

1-12 months old should have 14-15 hours sleep a day

1 – 3 years old should have 12-14 hours sleep a day

3 – 6 years old should have 10-12 hours sleep a day

7-12 years old should have 10-11 hours sleep a day

12 – 18 years old should have 8-9 hours sleep a day

18 – 65 years old should have 7-9 hours sleep a day

65 + years should have 7-8 hours sleep a day

Further to this, it is thought that women need more sleep than men.  Dr Jim Horne, an expert in sleep science reckons that women need an extra 20 minutes every day, compared to men. This is because women multi-task, using more of their brain at once, than men.  This then requires more sleep to rest it. So, I will definitely be using this as an excuse for my husband to get up with the kids in future!

When we sleep, we do so in cycles, that pass through 4 stages  – 3 stages of light sleep (Non-REM) and 1 stage of deep sleep (REM).  In the early stages it is easy to be woken, and in the 4th stage, this is when we dream. Each of these 4-stage cycles last around 90 minutes and we should have about 5 or 6 of these cycles each night. The more complete cycles we have, the more refreshed we feel. If we have a disturbed night, each cycle may not be completed, so we aren’t getting the deep sleep that we need to wake up fully rested.

Benefits of Sleep

The benefits of sleep are well reported. The right amount of sleep helps our minds process everything that we have learnt during the day, our muscles and joints are repaired by the growth hormones that are released and the rest improves our reaction times, making sure we are firing on all cylinders the following day.  The NHS state that a lack of sleep can cause many health problems.  These include: reducing your immune system, increasing your anxiety and stress levels, increased diabetes risk, low sex drive, increased heart rate and blood pressure, leading to heart disease and reduced fertility.  There are also links between lack of sleep and obesity.

Sleep and Weight Loss

Poor sleep can lead to disruptions in our hormones, which as we know affect so much within our bodies, and can also affect our chances of success at weight loss.

Studies have shown that people who sleep less than 7 hours a day have a higher risk of becoming obese.  This is because of the reduction in the production of Leptin, the hormone that makes you feel full, and an increase in the production of the hormone Ghrelin, the hormone that causes you to feel hungry.

And we will have all experienced it, when you are absolutely dead on your feet and feel the need to eat the contents of the biscuit tin, just to get you through the day.

Other studies have shown that those people who get between 6 and 8 hours of sleep a night, are more likely to succeed in a weight loss program.  The same study also concluded that reducing stress levels also led to success with weight loss, and the two combined – good sleep and reduced stress – meant even greater success.

This was replicated in an American study which split people into two groups – those who were getting 7+ hours sleep a night, and those who were getting less than 7 hours sleep a night. Those who were in the latter category, experienced 55% less fat loss than the former category.  The ‘less than 7 hours sleep’ group also reported feeling significantly hungry, less satisfaction after meals and lack of energy to exercise.

There has also been links made with lack of sleep and reduced insulin sensitivity. When your body has reduced insulin sensitivity it can lead to fat being stored around your organs, where it really isn’t good for our health.

Poor quality sleep decreases our metabolism too, which will reduce the rate at which our body burns calories. We need it to be burning really efficiently so that we can the most out of our health lifestyles. If we don’t burn the calories, they are then stored in our bodies as fat.

Cortisol, the hormone which affects the food reward centres in our brains, causes us to eat more. When we are sleep deprived, more cortisol is produced and therefore the more we crave food. Cortisol also can inhibit the breakdown of fat and increase the breakdown of muscle. Something that we really don’t want when we are trying to get fitter and healthier. What we really want is to reduce the cortisol, and therefore improve the breakdown of fat, and decrease the break down of muscle.

There is further evidence that suggests when we are sleep deprived, our brains are more likely to desire high calorie foods, and we are less able to control ourselves.  If we don’t sleep well, we simply don’t have the mental strength to make good choices.

Let’s Give This a Go!

I think this shows that getting a good night’s sleep is worth a go, and let’s face it, sleeping is the easiest exercise we could ever try to lose weight.  So, when you are tempted to watch just one more episode of that Netflix boxset that you are bingeing on, think twice. We have all been there – we are tired, maybe a bit too tired to get up and move and we are all nice and comfy on the settee –  it’s all too easy to let the next episode load up.  This is exactly the point when we should be going to bed, instilling those good bedtime routines. Stopping the screen exposure, reading for a little while, having a warm shower, then a warm drink, maybe even meditating. Repeating the same behaviours night after night, before we get into bed, will start to form good habits that lull our  minds into a restful sleep.

We need to give our brains the cues that it is bed time, and time to start winding down. If we do the same routine every night, our brains will soon start to learn its time to switch off and rest.

I really hope that everyone takes part in this month’s challenge, if you haven’t started yet, why not give it a try from now? This is the ultimate all-inclusive challenge, that we probably all need! I would love it if you could let us know how you are getting on throughout the month, either as a comment on this article, or on the challenge page. Good luck and good night!


References: The Sleep Council, NHS



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