It’s no wonder that so many people are confused about what it really takes to drop a pant size or two. What…with all the hoopla over this special diet drink or that specific booty shaping sneaker, (oh, don’t even get me started on that one!) it’s hard to know where to place your focus.
Of course, diet and exercise are, understandably, the big box-office draw of the fitness industry – but here is a tiny fact that only sees the light of day every once in a while: If you don’t get enough sleep, what you do in the gym and in the kitchen might not make that much difference, even if you work really hard and stick to your diet like glue.
It’s hard to believe that something as sedentary as sleep is actually be one of the best, most overlooked diet aids around, but the proof has been out there for years.
Findings presented during the American Thoracic Society International Conference revealed the results of one of the largest studies to track the effects of sleep habits on weight gain over time. The 16 year study, which included more than 70,000 participants, showed that women who slept 5 hours per night were 32% more likely to gain weight (33 pounds on average) and 15% were more likely to become obese, when compared with those who slept 7 hours a night.
In the study, it was found that even among women who eat less, those who slept less still gained weight over time. Lead researcher Sanjay Patel, M.D., Assistant Professor of Medicine at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, OH explains, “Prior studies have shown that after just a few days of sleep restriction, the hormones that control appetite cause people to become hungrier, so we thought that women who slept less might eat more,” Patel says. “But, in fact, they ate less. That suggests that appetite and diet are not accounting for the weight gain in women who sleep less.”
While the evidence is clear - sleeping less has a direct effect on the ability to lose weight – the reasons behind this phenomenon are still unclear. A range of possibilities are thought to be responsible, from insulin regulation to an over abundance of the stress hormone, cortisol.
But, the real question isn’t “why” as much as “how.” How does one go about getting more sleep? The truth is, sleep habits are often as hard, if not harder to re-tool than eating and exercise habits. The following are a few of my favorite ways to catch some extra Zzz’s:
Change Your Ritual
- One of the best ways to change a habit is to start by changing the environment surrounding the habit. Try ending your evening with a hot, relaxing soak in the tub. Turn the TV off, listen to soothing music, or read something inspirational. Change a few things each week – adding to your new routine until you have a solid “get ready for bed” ritual. This will prompt your brain to begin unwinding, even if it is not your usual bedtime.
Add 30 Minutes at a Time
- If you’re accustomed to crawling into bed at 11:30pm, make an intentional effort to start making it 11:00pm. Once you have accomplished this 3 nights in a row, try moving it to 10:30pm and so on, until you are spending a full 6 to 8 hours in bed. Work on getting to bed earlier first, then work on getting to sleep. Eventually, your body will adjust to the change and you will fall asleep more easily.
Wear Ear Plugs
- Second only to stress and worry, the number one cause of sleepless nights is noise – specifically snoring. If this is a problem for you, consider using one of the many disposable foam ear plugs that are available at most drug stores. My favorite (I find them the most comfortable) are Flent brand “Quiet! Please” noise reducing ear plugs. I’ve used them for many years and have heard from more than a few folks that wearing ear plugs at night has not only helped them sleep better – it’ saved a few marriages too!
Listen to Meditation CDs
- Find a good quality meditation CD that will help you relax and wind down. These are also great to have by your bedside if you happen to wake up during the night with your mind racing. They can be the perfect solution to getting your mind off the stress, so you can drift back to sleep. Use flat stereo ear buds (the type designed for sleeping) to get the best results. I recommend using recordings that contain the sounds of rain, ocean waves or white noise only, and save guided, spoken recordings for daytime meditations.
So, in an effort to lose those stubborn love handles, while you count your calories and count the minutes ticking away on the treadmill, make sure to count on getting a few more hours shut eye too. Your body, mind and spirit will be all the better for it!
Dianne Orwig is a success coach, motivational speaker, fitness trainer, and founder of LivingFit Online(TM), a fitness program that has helped thousands of men and women completely transform their bodies and live healthier, happier lives though her less-is-better approach. For more information on how you can get better results in less time and with less effort than you ever thought possible, visit www.lovelivingfit.com