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In addition to a healthy and balanced diet and regular exercise, a restorative night's sleep can help with the battle of the bulge. According to recent studies published in the Journal of the American Medical Association and the Lancet, lack of sleep can slow down your metabolic function and make it harder to lose weight.
The hormones behind hunger
Scientists have demonstrated that you can help keep your hunger hormones in check by keeping a healthy sleep routine. Two hormones in particular – ghrelin, which is responsible for making you feel hungry, and leptin, which makes you feel full – are affected by your sleep patterns.
When you're sleep deprived, ghrelin levels increase and leptin levels drop, making you feel hungry and increasing your cravings. When faced with cravings, our tendency is to grab highly processed sweet and starchy snacks, which are a one-way ticket to weight gain. And when you're sleep deprived, feelings of fullness are often delayed, which means you're more likely to keep eating even when you've had enough.
The hormone cortisol also appears to be linked to body weight. Stress or sleep deprivation can cause cortisol levels to rise, and your appetite and cravings will rise right along with it. Excessive cortisol has been linked to a surplus storage of fat, specifically around the mid-section – this is a dangerous place for extra pounds as it can put you at higher risk for heart disease, stroke and cancer.
How much sleep do you need?
In order to keep your hormonal cycle in check, aim for seven to nine hours each night. Think you might be sleep deprived? Ask yourself these questions:
• Do you have difficulty falling asleep?
• Do you wake up a lot during the night?
• Do you wake up too early in the morning and then can’t get back to sleep?
• When you wake up, do you not feel rested?
If you have answered 'yes' to any of these questions, it may be time to re-jig your sleep routine to help you lose those extra pounds.
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How to regulate your sleep cycle
1. Go to sleep and wake up at the same time each day – even on weekends. Your body thrives on a natural rhythm. If you can fall asleep within five to seven minutes of hitting the pillow and wake up each day at the same time without an alarm clock, that's a sign of good health.
2. Avoid watching TV, reading the newspaper or working out immediately before bed.
3. Make sure your bedroom is completely dark. Darkness promotes the secretion of the anti-cancer hormone melatonin.
4. Don't go to bed angry! Make amends before heading to bed so you can fully relax.
5. Avoid coffee, tea or alcohol before bed. Opt for a soothing cup of chamomile tea to lull you to sleep.
If you work in shifts or are caring for a newborn, it can be tricky to regulate your sleep cycle. Instead, exercise regularly, drink plenty of water, and include plenty of fruits, vegetables, lean proteins and whole grains in your diet. Don't eat starchy or sugary refined foods in an effort to boost energy.
While a good night's sleep won't help you slim down without exercise and a healthy diet, sleep does appear to play an integral role. Make sure to focus on your sleep habits and have a good night!
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Dr. Joey Shulman DC is the author of the national best seller The Last 15 – A Weight Loss Breakthrough and founder of The Shulman Weight Loss Clinic. For more information, visit www.drjoey.com.