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- Sleep affects every system in the human body, so it’s critical to get enough rest if you’re trying to lose weight.
- While the amount of sleep you need is unique to you, most adults should get between seven to nine hours of sleep per night.
- Creating a wind-down ritual, keeping your room cool, and getting sunlight first thing in the morning are a few tips for improving sleep for weight loss.
It’s no secret that parenthood comes with its fair share of sleepless nights. From midnight feedings to comforting cries, all kinds of nighttime interruptions can keep moms from a good night’s sleep.
In fact, research shows that parents typically don't regain uninterrupted slumber until their child reaches the age of six. The sleep deprivation you experience during the early years of motherhood can have a significant impact on your life, not only on your energy levels and mental well-being, but also on your weight and physical health.
“Motherhood means high stress, strained schedules, intense mental load, and lots of interruptions from kids,” says Miranda Galati, MHSc, RD, RDN. “The perfect sleep routine isn’t always possible; but there’s still so much you can do to improve your sleep hygiene to support your weight loss goals.”
In this article, you’ll learn about the intricate relationship between sleep and weight, and get actionable tips on improving your sleep, reclaiming your health, and achieving your weight loss goals.
The Science Behind Sleep Deprivation and Weight
Sleep affects every system in the human body, so it’s critical to get enough rest if you’re trying to lose weight. Sleep is the body’s way of maintaining equilibrium.
During sleep, the body enters a restorative state. It's a time when damaged cells are repaired and tissues are rejuvenated. Your hormones, metabolism, and emotional well-being are all regulated in part by sleep.
Without spending enough time in this restorative state, your body and mind can’t function properly, creating a cascade of negative effects that make staying at a healthy weight challenging.
“Sleep deprivation has been linked to increased appetite, cravings for unhealthy food, and difficulty processing carbohydrates, all of which contribute to weight gain and poor weight loss outcomes,” explains Dr. Ketan Parmar, a psychiatrist and mental health expert.
Sleep deprivation disrupts the balance of hormones that regulate appetite, hunger, and fullness. The hormone ghrelin, responsible for stimulating hunger, increases with lack of sleep, while leptin, the hormone that signals fullness, decreases. This imbalance leads to heightened feelings of hunger.
When you sleep less, you tend to crave more unhealthy food, too.
“A lack of sleep doesn’t only change how much you’re eating, it can also affect what types of food you reach for. Sleep deprivation can make you more likely to reach for calorically dense foods like pizza and ice cream,” says Galati. “These foods contain more calories and less volume, and they’re extra delicious, which makes them easy to overeat.”
If you’ve ever tried to rally for a workout the morning after poor sleep, you know that sleep-deprived people often experience a lack of energy and motivation, which can result in more sedentary behavior. Not moving enough burns fewer calories and can hinder weight loss.
The Self-Care Pyramid for Moms
How Much Sleep Do You Need for Weight Loss?
Different people need different amounts of sleep. Whether you naturally sleep six or nine hours, what matters most is that you wake up feeling rested and ready for your day.
A good rule of thumb for adults is to aim for between seven and nine hours of sleep per night. But again, the amount of sleep you need is specific to you.
“Although this remains to be tested scientifically, it’s possible that naturally short sleepers get the same amount of benefit in, say, six hours, that long sleepers get in nine hours,” writes Stephen J. Guyenet in The Hungry Brain.
Our need for sleep changes throughout our lifetime, too. Your little ones may need up to 14 hours of rest per night whereas older adults can get by with as few as seven hours and still feel rested.
Tips for Better Sleep
As a busy mom, optimizing your sleep can seem challenging, but with a little planning and a few small changes, it's absolutely achievable. Here are some practical tips to help you get the rest you deserve while supporting your weight loss goals.
Create a wind-down ritual.
We all know that children thrive with a consistent, relaxing bedtime routine. Adults do, too. Establishing a wind-down ritual helps signal to your body that it's time to transition from wakefulness to sleep.
By incorporating certain habits into your evening routine, you can set the stage for a more restful night's sleep. Take a warm bath, read a few pages of a novel, or practice gentle stretches to signal to your body that it’s time to prepare for sleep.
Keep your room cool, dark, and quiet.
Make your bedroom a sleep-friendly sanctuary by eliminating distractions and creating a calming environment. Keeping your room cool, dark, and quiet can promote better sleep.
A cool room temperature (around 65°F or 18°C) mimics the drop in body temperature that naturally occurs during sleep onset. Using blackout curtains or an eye mask can help block out external light, while eliminating noise disturbances can create a tranquil atmosphere.
Turn your screens off an hour before bedtime.
Avoid stimulating activities, such as using electronic devices or watching intense TV shows, before bed. “Blue light from electronic devices such as laptops, phones, and TVs can inhibit melatonin production, which is an important hormone for regulating sleep-wake cycles,” explains Dr. Parmar.
Instead, engage in calming activities like journaling or practicing relaxation techniques to prepare your mind for a restful slumber. Even a few minutes of any of these relaxing activities goes a long way.
Get 10 minutes of direct sunlight in the morning.
A good night’s sleep begins in the morning. Exposure to natural light has a profound impact on our circadian rhythm, or internal body clock.
Getting a few minutes of direct sunlight in the morning helps regulate your sleep-wake cycle. Sunlight exposure suppresses melatonin production during the day and promotes its release at night, aiding in maintaining a healthy sleep schedule.
The Bottom Line
As a mother, your well-being is essential not only for your own health, but also for your ability to care for your child. Quality sleep plays a significant role in your weight loss journey and overall wellness. By understanding the science behind sleep and its impact on weight management, you can make informed choices to optimize your sleep habits and support your weight loss goals.
This article has been clinically reviewed by Hanna Rifkin, RD, CDCES, clinical health coach at One Drop.