Weight management is a constant struggle for many of us. And while many of us fixate on gruelling exercise regimes and meticulous calorie counting, it’s important not to underestimate the role sleep has to play.
With the majority of 2020 having been spent in lockdown, it’s safe to say that this year has been tough for many of us. One of the things that made coronavirus restrictions so tough was the closing of gyms and other fitness spaces. Even as these establishments begin to return to normality, many people still aren’t comfortable to get back to their usual workout routine.
This is part of the reason why weight management has been one of the key issues for a lot of people over the course of the Pandemic. In a BBC survey, 48% of people said they had put on weight during lockdown. Yet a relatively under-covered aspect of weight management during this period is the close relationship between disrupted sleep and weight gain.
As stress and anxiety levels have risen through Covid-19, sleep levels are thought to have depleted significantly for many households – be it due to concerns over job security, fears over falling ill or simply low mood caused by restrictions on movement. In a survey by King’s College London, 63% of those asked said that their sleep quality was worse as a result of lockdown.
Sleep and weight management are intrinsically linked, with sleep having a key part to play in the maintenance of metabolism and the suppression of calorie cravings.
We’re going to take a closer look at the risks associated with weight gain, as well as the role sleep has to play in tackling it.
Obesity is a big issue in the UK?
Although it feels like society as a whole is getting more aware of the need to be healthy, the figures show that weight management continues to be a huge issue for the UK.
In the last 25 years, obesity rates among UK adults have quadrupled, to the point where one in four people now fall into the ‘obese’ category. What’s more, over 60% of adults are classed as overweight or obese in the UK, leaving only 40% of women and 33% of men.
As a consequence of this, the UK has the highest obesity rate in all of Europe, so much so that 525,000 NHS admissions were related to obesity in 2015/2016.
The health risks associated with obesity are extremely severe. The NHS reports that an obese man is five times more likely to develop type 2 diabetes, and an obese woman is 13 times more likely. Obese adults are also 2-4% more likely to develop high blood pressure, which increases your risk of stroke and heart problems.
The relationship between sleep and weight management
There are both direct and non-direct links between sleep and weight management. While we sleep, we burn fat and our body repairs itself. One study published in Psychology Today found that more than half of the weight lost during 8.5 hours of sleep was fat, versus only one quarter of weight lost during 5.5 hours of sleep.
But there are other ways in which sleep impacts our health and fitness. Sleep duration has an impact on our release of hormones like ghrelin and leptin – both of which influence hunger pangs. As a result, when we are sleep deprived we are more likely to turn to food as a source of energy, particularly sugary snacks.
What’s more, lack of sleep leads to increased levels of lethargy and fatigue. This makes us far less like to engage in physical activity, which overtime can make a significant difference to our weight and physical fitness levels.
Improving your bedtime routine can benefit your sleep health
There are simple changes you can make to your bedtime routine which will help you enjoy a better night’s sleep. For one thing, you should aim to go to bed and wake up at the same time every night. This gets your body used to a routine, which will cause it to begin winding down as bedtime approaches.
You should also avoid bright screens in the run up to bedtime, especially your smartphone. Bright lights from screens can disrupt your brain’s release of melatonin – the hormone which is responsible for telling your body that it’s time to go to bed.
Follow a healthy and balanced diet, avoiding the likes of caffeine and alcohol as these can disrupt the quality of your sleep. Keeping your bedroom cool and dark will also encourage better sleep.