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Why sleep is an important factor for losing weight

Ann Arbor fitness expert Mike Coval shares tips on how to sleep the weight off

Photo: Pexels
Photo: Pexels

ANN ARBOR – When you’re struggling with losing weight, have you ever wondered if more sleep would help? Probably not.

Chances are, your thoughts were more like, "I need to workout more!" or "I need a new training plan!"

It’s very common, and pointing to exercise is the scapegoat when it comes to lack of progress with a weight loss plan. Let’s be honest, working out is the easy part. 

Sleep is perhaps even more hard, and way too often overlooked (like nutrition, but that’s a different article).

Why Sleep Matters
Research has shown that lack of sleep negatively impacts how the body processes sugar, hunger hormones, insulin sensitivity and stress hormone levels.

In plain English, these alterations in your body chemistry can lead to weight gain, plateauing of weight loss and/or negative impacts on your body composition (ratio of lean muscle mass to fat mass).

OK, So Sleep is Important.  How Much Sleep Should I Be Getting?
Excellent question! In an ideal world, you’re getting eight hours of sleep per night.  Now, I know that statement may not sit well with you. Heck, it doesn’t sit well with me!  

I’m going to go out on a limb and say the reason that may upset you is:

  • Getting eight hours of sleep per night sounds impossible.
  • There are so many variables that play into how much sleep you get (i.e. kids, demands of work, making time for loved ones, etc).

So, what are you to do?  

How To Improve Your Sleep Quality & Quantity
The first thing that we need to do is to shift your mindset. Up to this point, sleep has been something that you get in when you can get it. We have to shift from that mindset to a mindset of "sleep is king."
Once we start changing our relationship with sleep, now we can start looking at creating a framework for our sleep.

Now, let’s set your framework with five tips:
1. Set a bedtime and a wake time and being consistent with them. If you’re getting less than seven hours of sleep per night, then try bumping up your bedtime by 30 minutes or extending your wake time by 30 minutes.
2. Make your bedroom as dark as a cave. All electronic lights can be covered. You can purchase light covers here. We mentioned how stress levels can be affected and one of the contributors to this is the artificial light that your eyes are exposed to. The artificial light signals your body that it is still daytime and thus can disrupt your sleep cycle. 
3. Make sure that your room is cool. Anywhere between 60-67 degrees will suffice.  
4. Minimize your exposure to artificial light before bed. There are a couple of strategies that you can do to be effective with this.  
    a. If you have an iPhone, make sure that your Night Shift app is turned on. This will help decrease the amount of blue light emitted from your phone screen. 
    b. If you’re someone who works on your laptop before bed, download f.lux to your laptop.  The software is free and like the Night Shift feature, it decreases the amount of artificial blue light emitted from your laptop.
    c.    Purchase a pair of blue blocker glasses that will help decrease the amount of artificial light that your eyes are exposed to.
    d.    Get the TV out of your bedroom.
    e.    If you have the willpower, then simply set a time where you turn off electronics.  No phone, no TV, no laptop.  This can be very tough and no judgement from me if you can’t do it.  I’d be doing a disservice to you all if I didn’t mention it though.
5. For about 10 minutes before you go to bed, participate in activities that stimulate “rest & digest” (parasympathetic) nervous system.  Getting the “rest & digest” system more activated can help decrease the time that it takes you to fall asleep and help you stay asleep.  Some things you could do are:
    a. Deep breathing. While lying on your back, inhale through your nose for 2-3 seconds, exhale through either your nose or mouth for 5-6 seconds, pause for 3 seconds with no air going in our out (mouth closed) and then repeat the breath cycle. Do this for 5-10 minutes.
    b. Meditate. Careful with this one though. Some people get energy from meditation, while others feel more relaxed and it can help them sleep. Try it out and see which category you fall into. There are plenty of guided apps out there, and the one that I recommend is Headspace.
    c. Guided breathing. This has been a game changer for me and some of my clients. I use an app on my phone called Inner Balance and from a company called Heart Math. It basically takes you through a guided breathing session for however long you desire. On the nights that I’m good about using it, I notice an improvement in sleep quality.  

Mike, That’s A lot of Things That I Can Work On.  How Am I Supposed to Adopt All of These Habits?
Another great question! Like with all things, focus on one thing at a time. The most powerful thing that you can do to start is set yourself a consistent sleep and wake time. Focus on that for a few weeks to a month, then start building on top of that.

Give those strategies a shot, be consistent with them and I will be extremely surprised if at the end of three months you aren’t happier with the way that you look and feel!  

I’m always here to help you with any of your health and fitness needs, so please feel free to reach out to me at mike@annarbortrainer.com. Follow COVAL on Instagram @covalfitness for tips and advice on how to enhance your quality of life!

Dedicated to your success,

Mike Coval, CSCS

Mike Coval, BS Exercise Science, CSCS is a fitness & performance coach and owner of COVAL in Ann Arbor. COVAL provides individualized, expert coaching in fitness, nutrition, lifestyle and mindset to help you be your best in an environment where you feel like family.

This story is sponsored by Applied Fitness Solutions. AFS provides group fitness classes and personal wellness coaching at their three area locations: Ann Arbor, Rochester Hills, and Plymouth. Learn more about AFS.

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