By student dietitian, Shu Ning

Cant figure out why you are gaining weight? Delve into the secrets of sleep and look at why sleep is the number 1 factor towards a healthier body.

It has always been told that the best way to achieving a healthy weight and great body is by eating and exercising well. But have you ever found yourself in the situation when you are doing both but still face the problem of weight gain? You might be forgetting an important factor – Sleep! Having to juggle between work, eating well and exercise, you forget to have enough sleep and that could just be the reason to why your healthy diets and strenuous workouts are not helping.

Over the past few decades, the prevalence of obesity in Australia has been constantly rising. As shown from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, about 61% of the adults aged 18 years and above were overweight or obese in 2007-2008. This was 4% higher from 57% in 1995. At the same time, with this rise in weight there has been a comparable increase of chronic sleep deprivation in Australia. According to a study published in the Journal of Aging and Health, 18- 30% of the people in United States and Australia is having less than 7 hours of sleep everyday.

The less you snooze, the more you crave, the more you eat.

In a study published by the Annals of Internal Medicine, researchers had six of a group of 12 men sleep 4 hours in bed, while the other six sleep 10 hours in bed. Blood samples were obtained and found out that men who spent 4 hours in bed had lower mean leptin levels and higher ghrelin levels as compared to the men who slept 10 hours. Leptin is a “satiety” hormone that gives you a sense of fullness while ghrelin is the “hunger” hormone that boosts your appetite. In addition, these increase in appetite tend to be highest for high carbohydrate and fat foods.

Food cravings are the devil to all dieters, as they trigger binge eating and ultimately result in weight gain. You sure bet this is the last thing any dieter would love to face.

In addition, a study done by the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, tells us that short sleepers with a delayed bedtime eat 1908kJ more than the non- short sleepers. This was due to the higher intake of carbohydrates, protein and fat and higher meal frequency throughout the day. It was also found that most of these were consumed during the later hours of the day- suggesting that the additional hours of wakefulness actually increase your amount of caloric intake.

If that’s not enough, scientists discovered that lack of sleep messes with your brain causing you to make bad judgments revolving food choices and decisions.  A study published by Current Biology showed that human brains lacking of sleep changes the human emotional brain response to a stimulus of undesirable consequence. The medial-prefrontal cortex of our brain, which is proposed to apply an inhibitory control over our amygdala, shuts down with sleep deprivation. This increases our amygdala activity causing us to have internal emotional and decision-making battles of whether to eat or not eat.

The moral of the story: Lack of sleep makes you more hungry, gives you more time to raid your kitchen for food and disrupts your brain power to say “No!”

The less you snooze, the less active you are

Apart from diet, the horrors of sleep deprivation occur in levels of physical activity as well. In the Nurses’ Health Study, results have shown that short sleep durations were related to a lower level of physical activity. Lack of sleep, which clearly led to tiredness, reduced the level of activity in individuals suffering from sleep deprivation. Such individuals are less likely to be to be involved in sports and seen more often being engaged in sedentary activities like watching the television. With the lack of regular exercise, energy expenditure becomes more than energy intake leading to the subsequent consequence of what may not be a good sight on your weighing scale.

The No.1 key factor to a better health and body: Sleep

Evidences for short sleep duration and its links to weight gain and obesity has grown tremendously over the past years. Because of the increasing demands in life, people are progressively experiencing sleep debts or are unable to fall asleep due to stress. With obesity being one of the leading risk factor to illnesses such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes, we need to put sleep of high importance not only for a better body but also a healthier life.

How much sleep do you need?

Ever feel like you need more sleep than your friend/spouse does? Fret not. Though majority of the people have about 7-8hours of sleep daily, amount of sleep needed actually varies between individuals.

Here are some factors to take into account on how much sleep you need each night:

•Gender: Women require more sleep than men.

•Age: Increasing age is related to earlier bedtime and waketime and decreased total sleep time. Adolescents would require about 9-10hours of sleep. Adults would require about 7-8 hours of sleep.

•Morningness(M-type) VS Eveningness(E-type): Morningness in a person would mean you are a morning person who is mostly active in the morning while eveningness would mean an evening person who is mostly active at night/in the evening, like a night owl. Typically E-types require more sleep.

Tips to get more sleep!

Here are some pointers on how to get more sleep tonight. Having more sleep and a good night’s sleep would leave you more refreshed and energized when you wake. This remarkable effect will not only prevent weight gain but also a result in a happier, more productive and healthier you!

•Get into a bedtime routine: Set a specific time for bedtime. By forming a routine, your body slowly gets adjusted to the schedule and prepares your body for sleep whenever that time comes.

•Create a sleep-inducing environment: Switch off your lights, sleep without any music and switch the air conditioner on! A dark, quiet and colder bedroom has shown to help you sleep better at night.

•No caffeine close to bedtime: We all know that caffeine keeps us awake and alert! If you are the type that gets a huge effect from caffeine, cutting back any caffeinated drinks a few hours before you sleep would ensure a restful night’s sleep.

•Snack well: Eat a carb-rich/high-protein snack before bed. Have a small banana or a small serve of cottage cheese and biscuits. Research shows that consuming a snack that is rich in carbohydrates or protein can easily get you a peaceful good night’s sleep.