When many of us set out to lose weight, our sole focus tends to be diet and exercise.
We start hyper-focusing on how many times we get on the bike a week and for how long.
Many of us start logging our food into My Fitness Pal or some other app and try to figure out exactly how many calories we can eat a day.
It’s easy to think that we need to do all of the things, all at once, and do them perfectly in order to maximize results.
Now, first of all, I don’t think that calorie counting works for most people because it’s just not sustainable! Logging all of our food somewhere just takes too much TIME. And it’s boring. And even when an app does the math for you, let’s face it, it involves MATH.
Also, looking at riding our bikes as a means to lose weight saps all of the fun out of riding. I don’t want to feel like I have to ride my bike. I want to feel like I get to ride my bike!
Another reason that focusing on diet and exercise alone is a huge problem with sustained weight loss is that we are leaving out one of the MOST important factors.
I know, right?!
How can it seriously be that easy to lose weight? All I have to do is get enough sleep?
Well, it isn’t the only factor in weight loss, but it is WAY more important than we normally give it credit for.
In this article I will explain why sleep is so important for weight loss, and some simple and easy strategies to get more of it.
Why We Need Sleep to Lose Weight
This may surprise you, but sleep is an essential piece of the weight loss puzzle.
There are numerous studies out there that link an increase in sleep/adequate sleep to weight loss.
Though researchers seem to differ on exactly WHY we lose weight if we get more sleep, most agree that when we sleep more we are more likely to lose weight. Below I discuss a few of the ways sleep and weight loss may be linked.
The More Sleep We Get, the Less We Eat
This study, published in the Journal of American Medicine, looked at obese individuals that were getting under 6.5 hours of sleep a night. When they increased their sleep, they found that they were eating less.
Now this kind of makes sense, right? If you are not sleeping, you are awake. If you are awake, you are likely to eat more.
Whether it is from boredom, emotional eating, or because you are tired and feel like you don’t have enough energy, at the end of the day if you aren’t getting enough sleep you are more likely to overeat.
You Might Just Be Hungrier When You Don’t Get Enough Sleep
When we don’t get enough sleep, our body might think it is more hungry than it normally does.
In other words, studies have shown that hormones that send signals to our brain that we are hungry might increase in our body when we haven’t gotten enough sleep.
This is really helpful information. You might be all down on yourself for overeating and are thinking you just don’t have enough willpower, when in fact your brain is actively getting messages from your body that you are hungry.
Now, trying to willpower your way through weight loss pretty much never works to begin with because it feels awful. Still, imagine if you are also trying to override your body signaling to your brain that you are hungry?
The More You Sleep, the More Energy You Have to Ride Your Bike!
Now I don’t encourage you to think about riding your bike as a means to lose weight. We are not riding our bikes to earn our food, or to punish ourselves for eating too much.
This saps all of the fun out of riding our bikes! We ride because we love it. Because moving our bodies makes us feel good. It makes us feel strong.
Studies like this one show that when we get enough sleep, we have more energy to ride our bikes! Additionally, riding can help us get more sleep, so this is a definitely a win-win.
I want you to look at biking as a motivator to lose weight, not a means.
When we are biking and moving our body regularly it is a great motivator for weight loss. It makes us feel healthier, and makes us want to make better food choices so that we can properly fuel our bodies for our rides.
OK, I Get It. I Need More Sleep. Tell Me How to Get It!
There are so many little tricks and strategies that can help us get a little more sleep in our lives. Below I have listed a couple that have worked well for me.
Decide Your Sleep Number and Make Sleep a Priority
This is truly a big one. If you are in the habit of just thinking that you will sleep when you sleep, and you will wake when you wake, then you haven’t made sleep a priority.
When I say “sleep number” I don’t mean that fancy bed. Those suckers are EXPENSIVE! My gosh! I mean the number of hours of sleep that you want to shoot for per night.
Like everything else related to sleep there is so much research out there regarding what that magic number is. I recently saw a study that insisted that 7 hours is the perfect number.
Honestly, it seems that the general recommendation is that 7-9 hours of sleep should be the standard.
My advice is to listen to YOUR body. Pick a number that you think will work for you, and that you think is a reasonable place to start.
Then, make it a priority to get those hours in. Make it more important than Netflix. Make it more important than work. You are going to be SO much more productive if your body and brain are well rested.
Be Consistent with Bedtime and Wake Times
The key here is that whenever possible you want to be consistent with the time you go to bed and the time that you wake up.
Our brains thrive on routine. If you go to bed at the same time and wake up at the same time your body and brain gets used to this. If you go to bed at 10:00 every night then your body will start to adjust to this expectation.
If your bedtime is all over the place and there is no consistency, then it can take longer for your brain to get the message that you would like to go to sleep.
Have a Wind Down Routine
In addition to having a consistent bed time and wake time schedule, a wind down routine is a great way to signal to your brain that it’s time to settle down and go to sleep.
Create a wind down routine that works for you with elements that you love. I personally like to have either warm water with lemon or herbal tea as a part of my wind down routine, especially in the winter. I shower before bed (I am a morning person so I don’t need it to wake up!). I use a lavender scented lotion (Lush “Sleepy”) to get myself ready for bed.
The contents of your routine aren’t nearly as important as the consistency. Pick one or two elements to incorporate at first, and then build on as it makes sense to you. You may also consider reading a calming book (not the sort that keeps you awake because you need to know what happens next!), or meditation/a sleep story to help prep your body for sleep. I actually love the calm app for meditation, so that can be a great one to try!
Consider a Sleep Tracker With Sleep Tracking Software
It’s not a bad idea to actually track your sleep to see what kind of sleep (and how much!) you are actually getting. I track my sleep using my apple watch. It tells me how many hours I am asleep, what stage of sleep I am in, how long I am in each stage, and how often I wake up.
Data and numbers are great for providing useful information. If we have a target number and we are reaching it, great! If we aren’t, then we can brainstorm solutions to try.
If you don’t have an apple watch/normally charge it while you sleep (you really need some sort of dedicated charging time each day) there are a ton of other sleep trackers out there. I have also considered getting an Oura ring (though I haven’t pulled the trigger just yet!) or one of these sleep mats. For now, though, my Apple Watch is doing the job and giving me all of the information I need.
A Final Note
At the end of the day (haha literally!) sleep is one of those secret weapons of weight loss. So many of us women struggle to get enough sleep, and don’t realize just how important it is to maintain and improve our health and fitness.
Additionally, I outlined just a few strategies to get more sleep that have worked for me. There are so many more things that you can do, such as making sure that you don’t sleep with the TV on, having a dark room, white noise, etc.
It’s a lot of trial and error, but hopefully you will find a schedule and a strategy that works for you.
There will be stages of our lives where getting the sleep we need will be challenging. When we are pregnant, when we have small babies we have to feed, when we go through perimenopause and menopause our circadian rhythms can change and make getting the sleep we need more difficult.
No matter what season you are in, make sleep a priority. Be consistent. Get the best sleep you can. Your body and your weight loss efforts will thank you.
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