Sleep: The Secret Weapon for Weight Control

Find out how can you get the best quality sleep and prime your body to make the most favorable food choices.

When providing office catering to SF employees who work tirelessly, it is easy to speculate that many of our ambitious clients are forgoing quality sleep. Sleep deprivation is a common trend among the companies that Zesty provides office catering to. Ambitious employees are still in the office for their 7:30pm dinner, and return home only to continue responding to work emails. We’ve all heard and have felt at least some of the benefits of a restful night: appropriate energy levels, muscle recovery, and mental acuity to name a few. Despite this knowledge, we sacrifice hours in bed for just one more episode of Stranger Things or weeknight drinks with friends. Once in awhile, this behavior is fine – we pay our sleepy dues for a day and snap back into routine the next. But what seems to be under appreciated are the problems that arise when we slip, all too easily, into a prolonged pattern of shortened sleep cycles. We’ll experience all the classic symptoms of rest deprivation, and we’ll likely see the number on the bathroom scale slowly tick upward…

Sleep has a direct impact on the hormones that regulate appetite. When we get too little sleep, the hormone that makes us hungry (ghrelin) increases, and the hormone that helps us feel full (leptin) decreases. People who have consistently irregular sleep cycles may feel incessantly ravenous, no matter what they consume. To demonstrate this phenomenon, research shows that night shift workers are more likely to be overweight and to gain weight than day workers. Even in the short term, a poor night of sleep can shift our motivations to eat and may cause cravings for rich, dense foods or those that are high in sugars – things that will supply the body with a rush of energy, when a sustainable energy source is lacking. Our ability to control portions is disrupted, and readily available office foods may become more tempting…

So how can you get the best quality sleep and prime your body to make the most favorable food choices? Here are three effective tips:

1. Turn down the lights and de-screen before bed. Melatonin (the sleep hormone) should rise in the evening and fall in the morning, when cortisol levels peak. Lights – even those from our phones or televisions – can interfere with melatonin production and make it harder to fall asleep.

2. Turn up the AC. The optimal temperature to raise melatonin levels and induce sleep is around 65 degrees. If you don’t have control of your bedroom temperature, take a cool shower in the evening or open a window.

3. Exercise in the morning. Physical exertion raises body temperature as well as cortisol levels, which are in direct opposition to melatonin. Because of this, vigorous exercise that happens later in the day may interfere with sleep and cause a restless night.

Using these subtle methods, work towards a goal of 7-8 hours of sleep per night. You’ll be surprised how quickly you start to see the benefits, ranging from the ability to maintain a healthy body weight to increased productivity at work, and let the health benefits roll in!

Alexander Rothwell

Senior Dietitian