Sleep and Weight Loss: Sleep More to Lose More

A few years ago I approached someone I believed (and still believe) to be knowledgeable in this field of weight loss – Stuart MacMillan – to help me shift a few kilos. His first question to me wasn’t: ‘what’s your eating regime like?’ or ‘How many cupcakes have you eaten this week?’. He didn’t offer solutions like, ‘throw out all your sweets and chocolate!’ or ‘bread is the devil!’ either.

Stu’s first question in response to how to lose weight was this: how much sleep are you getting? Are you sleeping enough?

So, if you’re reading this to find out how you too can lose a few kilos or pounds, let me ask you this same question – how much sleep are you getting? Is it enough?

Because this response dictates the rest of the conversation.

Start of July 2020 – Not at my ideal competition weight

Firstly, a disclaimer: When people see pictures like this, they often ask why I’d want to lose a few kilos.

Here’s why – Losing isn’t fun, especially when you lose for reasons within your control. What else sucks? Jumping distances below what I know or believe I can jump. Falling short of my aspirations. And why? Because I’m not at my competition weight. I know that a few kilos ‘overweight’ may sound super finicky, but I guess I like to control what I can control and competitions are won and lost in the minutiae!

Of course, I do personally get frustrated when weight is just thrown in people’s faces as the sole or prime reason for people’s under-performance or when celebs are castigated for having a little bit of belly fat or cellulite. That’s brutal and unnecessary.

But I do believe in taking personal responsibility for where you want to be, finding and defining factors contributing to your success and working on them to fit the metrics you’ve defined with your team that work for you.

Weight shouldn’t be thrown about by those who don’t know you and it’s a conversation that should be had, if it must at all, between parties who trust each other in a way that is uplifting and supportive, not belittling and humiliating. That’s all I’ll say on that.

So, back to the point of all this – define your reason why. Mine is solely performance-driven: Losing sucks. Jumping below my potential is demotivating and a bit of a gut-punch TBQH. I want to win. I always want to fulfil my potential. And I never want to fall short simply because I cut corners that were wholly within my control. That’s my reason; that’s my why. What’s yours?

Right, figured that out? Great, we can move on!

Are you sleeping enough? And why does that matter?

I feel like there are several reasons sleep makes such a defining contribution to weight loss and I have to say that there are some incredible explanations, research data and examples in Thrive by Arianna Huffington that I read at the perfect time to support this blog post. I’ll list one below and I’d also suggest you purchase the book so you can ‘thrive’ in other areas of your life too.

More effective workouts ‘I was lifting heavier weights, punching the treadmill button to go faster, and giving it a higher incline than usual…The only performance-enhancing stimulant I was on was a couple of eight-hour nights of sleep.’

Arianna Huffington

As a side-note, after writing this blog, I ran two polls on sleep duration at night and napping during the day on my Twitter and Instagram. The results are still coming in but, so far 59% of my Insta fam get less than 8 hours’ sleep per night and 53% of Tweeps would love a nap, but…don’t. This blog is clearly focused on the relationship between sleep and weight-loss, not primarily sleep and performance. That’s a different conversation altogether and relates as much to elite sports people as it does to those at a developmental level in sports or those in every walk of life – whether you work in an office, a school or in a myriad of other places! However, Arianna’s experiment with 8+ hours’ of sleep demonstrates the extra energy one may be able to gain to enhance performance not just during workouts, but at work and home too.

Now back to the purpose of this blog – advocating for more sleep (if you don’t currently get enough) to aid weight loss. Personally, my two favourite consequences of sleeping long and deeply enough are that I naturally eat less because [1] I’m not craving sugars and carbs to keep me awake throughout the day and [2] I make my eating window shorter so naturally end up intermittent fasting (an increasingly popular weight loss strategy that I’ve actively used before.)

Other benefits of more sleep include:

  • Less stress
  • More vivid dreams (and you remember them upon waking!)
  • Waking up refreshed
  • And even more incredibly, waking up without an alarm!

Latest Post: Healthy Lentil, Spinach and Walnut Burger Recipe

Sleep Affects What You Eat

Like I mentioned above, when I sleep more, I crave healthier foods. I love to follow quite a balanced diet – carbs, protein, veg and fats. When I am even slightly sleep-deprived, I make bad food choices. I am human, after all. As are you! So, ensuring you sleep well (and even throw in a few guilt-free naps when your energy is depleted) is a recipe for success (pun intended).

As an example, last Monday I tweeted that I had to stop-off twice on my journey home from Loughborough to Manchester. A 1h45 journey took 3 hours! I was exhausted. And even though I napped, I didn’t have the willpower to stop myself from grabbing a giant Snickers and Bounty chocolate bar at the service station. Thankfully, I only ate half of the Snicker and a third of the Bounty (LOL!). But it just goes to show the power of sleep…or lack thereof on food choices!

Ultimately, you make better choices (not just with food – in the boardroom, with your family, etc. etc.) when you get the right amount of sleep for you.

Intermittent Fasting – Quick Overview

In the past I’ve used a 16:8 method; whereas now mine is more like 14:10 as it follows my natural sleep, eat, repeat cycle. What does this mean? I ‘fast’ or don’t eat for 16 or 14 hours in the day and eat in that 8 or 10 hour window (the number on the right). You may think, Oh my gosh! That sounds horrific. But many of us do this naturally anyway.

With 16:8 I fasted whilst I slept and then ate from 10am to 6pm (8 hours). I remember that I did this when I would go to bed on the other side of midnight so I’d end up super hungry* just before I’d go to bed and was not a fan of this, so much prefer 14:10 because 10am to 8pm works amazingly now I am in bed between 11pm-midnight and up between 8 & 9am.

*I have heard many people say that you have to be hungry to lose weight (and sometimes I nod in agreement because I don’t have all the answers and I appreciate that what works for me may not work for others), but I often find when I’m hungry, I don’t lose weight. Because I’m grumpy and craven. But that may not be the case for you. I’m not a certified dietitian so don’t have all the answers. Just figure out your flow and follow it. (Until it doesn’t work anymore. And then find another way. That’s a whole other story, but just from my personal experience…your body changes and what worked for weight loss last year may not suit you this year! Annoying, I know!)

Related Post: 4 Healthy, Home-Cooked Meal Ideas

How do you get more sleep?

  • Earlier bed
  • Strict sleep routine.
  • Better mattress (if you can’t afford a new mattress, buy a mattress topper!)
  • Better sleepwear (silk or satin).
  • Lavender scent. (Black cherry Yankee Candle also works well for me.)
  • A darker room – eye mask + blackout blinds.

Here’s another major tip from me – turn your phone on aeroplane mode an hour before bedtime and don’t turn it off until an hour or two after you wake up. It’s a game-changer.

I’d love to share with you everything I know on sleep. I really feel that sleep solves a multitude of life’s ills which is why I am so clued up in this area and I am always researching more on this topic, but this blog post is already seriously long, so if you want to feel better, happier and hit your weight goals, check out these two books for more info on the importance of sleep and how to sleep better:

Thrive

Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Happier Life by Arianna Huffington – Currently £2.99 on Amazon (a massive discount) and SO worth the small investment!

Now I’m sleeping enough! What next?!

Diet: Track, review and change. Figure out the gaps and fill them in. Awareness is the first step to creating change. So track what you’re eating for a week or two without making any changes just so you can see what you currently do. Then review it with a friend or if you have the finances, a trained nutritionist who can help you adjust in line with your goals. Even if you review it on your own, with a little bit of research you can figure out some basic changes you can make to help you lose weight. And then continue to review and adapt (where necessary) on a regular basis.

Currently, I am tracking everything I eat on MyFitnessPal and inputting my weight on there each week, which I only do when [1] I want to lose weight or [2] I want to become more aware of what I’m eating, particularly when I feel like I’m slacking in some areas. But, here’s a general summary of my breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Breakfast – coffee, oats with nuts (birchers muesli) & Alpro greek yoghurt OR if my stepdad cooks a fry-up then I grab eggs and bacon on a piece of toast!

Lunch & Dinner – Rice, chicken stew and veg (broccoli and cauliflower usually) OR sweet potatoes, veg and fish.

Snacks – Fruit and protein snack, e.g. nuts (my favourite is Graze veggie protein power sea salt & pepper cashew nut, chick peas and edamame beans mix) or cheese on crackers! I also love a cuppa tea with chocolate (2 squares of Green & Black’s Velvet Edition salted caramel dark chocolate is my ultimate go-to) to satisfy my sweet tooth.

Single leg body weight hip bridges at Loughborough University’s Powerbase gym

Exercise: Track, review and change. As above, bring awareness to how much or how little you exercise. No judgement. Only awareness. I love that a lot of people now have smart watches that track their steps each day, for example. Then review with a friend, by yourself or with a trained coach or trainer.

  • Make small changes that you can integrate into your lifestyle – parking further away from the office, taking walking meetings, doing lunges every 50 minutes at your desk.
  • Choose activities that you enjoy – hiking each weekend, swimming, YouTube yoga, etc.
  • Find a friend to share the experience with (and for additional accountability)!

Related Post: Hiking in Ireland, Stairway to Heaven

Finally, returning to the ‘why’ behind your weight loss, I do not believe how you look nor the number on the scale need be the sole metric defining your success.

Sunbathing at Hotel Alcazar, March 2017

The above is a picture of me approx. 4-5 kilos heavier than my competition weight and I was perfectly content. But, I wasn’t an athlete then. I was a happily retired, office-working lass taking a much-needed vacation in the sun. I know I’ve said this already, but define your own metrics; don’t let others define them for you. And bring other metrics into your definition of weight-loss success too. Ask: how do I feel and move at this weight? Am I sluggish or energised following this meal plan? Am I happy?

Challenge: if you are getting less than 8 hours’ sleep at night, get into bed earlier and add an extra 30 minutes to your sleep routine (or schedule a nap)!

Have a question?


Please note: Due to my participation in Amazon’s Associates Program, I receive a small fee when you purchase any of the items listed above via the link with Amazon.co.uk.

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