Ask the Trainer

Lack of sleep could contribute to holiday weight gain

December 6, 2014

As the holidays approach, most people are bound to lose sleep due to busy schedules and family obligations. Combine this with the many holiday parties and empty calories that come with the season, and you have a recipe for instant weight gain.

Obviously if you don’t get enough sleep you won’t have enough energy to work out as hard as you like but there is a lot more to consider when looking at the big picture.

Lack of sleep has many more negative effects, and they could be the reason why you just can’t make yourself put down those cookies and eat something healthier.

A recent study concluded that failure to get enough sleep causes the body to release a hormone called ghrelin. Ghrelin is an appetite-stimulating hormone that tells the body you need food and will make you feel hungry even when you’re not.

To make matters worse, the body wants a quick fix and tends to gravitate toward foods loaded with sugar that can quickly enter the bloodstream, such as candy, cakes, doughnuts and cookies, which are just the kinds of foods most people have in their houses during the holiday season. Since the body thinks it's starving, common sense goes right out the window and the Christmas cookies go right down the gullet.

However, when you get enough sleep, the body releases another hormone called leptin that makes you feel full and tells the body to stop eating. When you feel full, the body is not in crisis mode and you have the ability to be more selective with your food choices, making it easier to eat healthy. This may very well give you the control you need to eat the seasonal treats in moderation and not gorge yourself into an extra waist size or two.

Lack of sleep may also cause the body to lose valuable muscle mass. A more recent study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that although dieters lost weight while receiving only 5.5 hours of sleep a night, they lost mostly muscle mass.

When the same people slept 8.5 hours, their bodies spared muscle mass and lost 55 percent more body fat. This is very important, because losing muscle slows your metabolism and impairs your body's ability to burn fat in the future, making it much more likely you’ll put the weight you lost back on in the near future.

So if your goal is to lose weight and get in shape, it’s important to make sleep a priority. Getting 8-10 hours of sleep a night combined with weightlifting, cardiovascular training and a sensible diet will greatly increase your chances of success. Of course, it makes good sense to add some extra cardio and work out a little harder when you know you will be eating more than normal over the holidays, but it’s also important to get enough sleep to assure you will have the control not to overdo it with tasty foods that come with the holiday celebrations.

Failure to do so may very well come with the heavy cost of binge eating, poor judgment, inconsistency, loss of muscle mass and decreased energy levels. Need I say more?

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