Sleep Really Can Help You Lose Weight

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Looking to reduce your sleep debt? Well, you just might lose weight too.

Weight loss is contingent on balanced hormones says Natasha Turner. We spoke with the Toronto-based naturopath and New York Times best-selling author who, in December, released her fourth book on hormone health, The Hormone Boost: How to Power Up Your 6 Essential Hormones for Strength, Energy and Weight Loss. The book’s plan includes diet, exercise and—the linchpin—sleep.

“I tell people, ‘Focus on fixing your sleep first. Then nutrition. Then add in the exercise.’ ”

Here, tips for better sleep, the hormones it both influences and is influenced by, and how they help weight loss.

“People don’t realize that there’s a huge connection between your light exposure, your body temperature and your sleep, and your appetite and habits,” Turner says.

As an example, if you’re not reaching a deep sleep at night, growth hormone (GH) will not be released. Aside from missing out on what’s being hailed as a wonder anti-ager, why should we care? Low secretions of GH have been linked to abdominal obesity in post-menopausal women.

Another hormone, melatonin, helps promote that deep sleep by triggering and keeping our body slightly cool at night. Turner warns that warming up too much can in fact blunt melatonin and therefore block growth hormone. As can light, so keep your bedroom cool and dark.

From a weight loss perspective, melatonin has been shown to stimulate beige or “good” fat that burns, rather than stores calories. Turner says supplementing with melatonin is best done in lozenge or spray form. If you feel groggy in the morning, try a lower dose or take it earlier in the evening.

What you eat and when you eat it can also impact hormone balance and sleep. It may seem counterintuitive from a calories perspective, but Turner says to save starchy carbs for dinner as they help raise serotonin.

Serotonin, a feel-good hormone, also enhances sleep. Turner, in fact, warns against starchy carbs such as oatmeal in the morning because it will make us sluggish. Waistband-wise, serotonin helps control how much we eat at each sitting, and helps inhibit hunger and eating triggered by stress.

And about exercise Turner says, “You’re better off to sleep in and get the rest your body needs than get up and do a boot camp out in the park at 5 a.m. … Do it right and you actually need very little.” The book’s workout is 30 minutes, done three times a week and focuses on resistance (weight) training. As noted in the book, only resistance training has been found to increase the hormone DHEA.

Among other things, it influences our body to lose fat and gain muscle, and—you may have guessed—it is also good for sleep.

A version of this article appeared in the April 2017 issue with the headline, “Sleep It Off,” p. 66.