For those of us who are watching our weight, getting sufficient sleep does not seem like an immediately obvious solution.

In Singapore, where our working hours are some of the longest worldwide, sleep deprivation is increasingly affecting our quality of life. Across the world, 6 in 10 adults face challenges clocking in the sleep they need.

The truth is that not sleeping enough can lead to weight gain. If you are going to the gym in the morning but sacrificing your sleep in the process, you’re doing it wrong! A growing body of research suggests even the strictest diet and fitness routine would come undone if it is not supplemented with 7 hours of quality sleep.


How sleep deprivation affects weight

Studies discovered that people who don’t sleep enough experience:

  • A more poorly regulated appetite, accompanied by an increase in hormones that signal hunger. This also means one is more less likely to feel full even with the same amount of food.
  • A tendency to eat more than what is needed in order to sustain the body while it’s staying awake for a longer period.
  • A craving for high-fat foods that can lead to consumption of an extra 300 calories a day.

When research study participants didn’t get enough sleep for five days, they made poorer food choices, gaining nearly two pounds (900g).

Forgoing on sleep impairs activity in the frontal lobe, the part of your brain that is responsible for logical decision-making. Instead, the deepest regions of your brain’s reward centers light up. This is the more primal part that is associated with motivation and desire. The end result is a larger appetite for sweet and salty foods.

While you may be able to subdue comfort food cravings when you’re well-rested, your sleep-deprived brain may have trouble saying no to a bag of chips. This is why new parents and shift workers are more inclined to see creeping weight gain.


It’s not just cosmetic – sleep deprivation can damage health

For those of us who think that they are above vanity, there are more compelling health reasons to adopt a healthy sleep habit.

It’s been recently discovered that not sleep fatigue reduces the ability of fat cells to respond properly to the hormone insulin. Insulin activates the release of leptin, a hormone that induces feelings of satiety. If your fat cells are less insulin-sensitive, this not only interferes with your ability to feel full, but it also predisposes one to type-2 diabetes.

“There is some evidence that sleep deprivation could lead to a pre-diabetic state,” says Dr Mark Mahowald, director of the Minnesota Regional Sleep Disorders Center.

This is because the body’s reaction to sleep loss can resemble insulin resistance, a precursor to diabetes. After a meal, your body metabolises carbohydrates into sugars, and sends them into your bloodstream. Insulin is the hormone that convinces the cells in your body to absorb the sugars.

In instances of insulin resistance, your cells fail to respond to insulin, and stop absorbing sugars efficiently. This can result in dangerously high blood sugar levels that may potentially harm the eyes, kidneys, nerves, or heart.


How much sleep do you need?

There isn’t a hard and fast rule about how much sleep one needs. In general, most young adults need seven to nine hours of sleep a night, and as they grow older, this shortens to seven to eight hours a night.

To find out your sleep capacity, we recommend this: The next time you’re on vacation, go to bed at your usual time, but wake up without the use of an alarm clock.

For the first couple of days, you may sleep more than usual (consider that payback for your sleep debt!). Once your sleep has stabilised over the next few days, record how much you sleep, give or take 15 minutes, she said. That is how much you need to sleep every night.


What is good quality sleep

Clocking the hours alone isn’t enough – your rest needs to be fitful too. According to the National Sleep Foundation in America, the key indicators for good quality sleep are:

  • Sleeping at least 85 per cent of the total time in bed (i.e. being in deep sleep instead of using your laptop or reading)
  • Falling asleep in 30 minutes or less
  • Waking up no more than once per night
  • Being awake for no more than 20 minutes after initially falling asleep


Tips to sleeping better

Experts recommend the following:

  • Sleep and wake up at the same time every day, even on weekends.
  • Turn out the lights in your bedroom. A dark environment is the cue for your body to activate melatonin, a natural sleep hormone.
  • Power down your smart devices an hour before switching off the lights. Our screens emit blue light that misleads our brains into thinking it is daytime.
  • Avoid heavy meals and alcohol close to bedtime, and ban all caffeinated beverages after 2pm. Caffeine can remain in your system for up to 5 hours after consumption.
  • Engage in regular exercise; this helps to normalise your body’s natural circadian rhythms, promoting daytime alertness and nighttime sleepiness.


Can we sleep ourselves slim?

Of course, this does not mean that sleeping more is the answer to all weight issues. Not sleeping enough simply interferes with your body’s ability to lose weight. Improving your sleeping habits will allow you to get more mileage from your existing diet and fitness routines.

In fact, oversleeping has its dangers as well. Sleeping more than 12 hours a day on purpose upsets the body’s natural bio clock, which governs everything from your mood, to your appetite, to your metabolism.

To see holistic weight loss, use sufficient sleep to complement an overall change in your eating and exercise habits.