Weight loss can be tough — especially this year when we are dealing with being cooped up in our homes and stress eating our way through 2020. So who wouldn’t welcome some easy ways to maximize calorie burn and promote weight loss?
Focusing on a healthy diet and regular workout routine are key, but there are some strategic changes you can make to optimize your sleep for fat burning.
While the idea might sound really far fetched, there is actually a growing area of research finding that it’s possible to lose weight during sleep. Modern life is interrupting the natural circadian rhythms the human body usually follows, according to research from The National Sleep Foundation. In fact, this disruption may be encouraging the body to hold onto fat when it really should not.
Here are some ways to help counter these effects:
1. Get enough sleep.
The first step to optimizing your sleep for weight loss is to get enough of it. Dr. Richard K. Bogan, a professor at the University of South Carolina School of Medicine and sleep researcher, said sleep in and of itself can help aid in weight loss. “Sleep is necessary for normal body hormone and immune system function. A sleep deprived or sleepy brain is a hungry brain,” he said. “Poor sleep leads to weight gain.”
He suggested having a consistent sleep schedule and said that the average adult needs roughly seven and a half to nine hours of sleep.
2. Don’t be a cardio junky.
Cardio is great, and there are lots of good reasons it should be a part of an overall fitness plan. But strength training should be, too, especially for anyone who wants to take advantage of nocturnal weight loss. This is because strength training continues to burn calories after the session is over. A stop at the gym after work, or even a simple at-home strength workout can keep the body in calorie-burning mode all night long, even after bedtime.
Keeping a pair of dumbbells or a resistance band next to your bed is a good visual reminder to add in full-body strength training at least three times a week. Work the larger muscles, like the glutes and legs, as well as the arms, back and core.
3. Do bodyweight exercises.
Don’t have access to a gym or dumbbells? Anyone can use their own body weight to get in strength training. Do 10 squats before bed, followed by a holding plank for 30 seconds. Or try walking around the house one lunge at a time and then doing modified pushups on the knees for 5 minutes before hitting the hay.
4. Add hand or ankle weights to your walk.
You don’t have to give up your daily walk in favor of strength training workouts — simply pick up a pair of 1- to 3-pound dumbbells or strap on a pair of ankle weights to turn your walk into a strength training and cardio session in one. Since strength training is so important to building muscle and burning fat, squeezing a weight into your workouts when you can is a smart way to up your calorie-burning potential all day (yes, even when you sleep).
5. Forward fold for 5 minutes.
Certain yoga poses help to calm and ease the mind of anxiety and tension. Try sitting upright in bed with the legs stretched out in front, then hinging forward at the hips. Feel a stretch in the backs of the legs (the hamstrings), and breathe in for five slow deep breaths and out for five. Feel a melting towards towards the legs and flex the feet. Perform this before bed to help calm down the nervous system and promote better quality sleep.
6. Sleep in a cooler and darker environment.
According to a small study published in the journal Diabetes, people who keep their bedrooms at a steady temperature of 66 degrees for one month increased the amount of calorie burning brown fat in their bodies by up to 42% and boosted their metabolism by 10%. A room that is too warm can also prevent you from falling or staying asleep. Bogan recommended setting your thermostat to 65 degrees.
To lose weight during sleep, try getting rid of that night light, too. Research suggests that light before bedtime can suppress melatonin and sleeping with a light on appears to affect the circadian regulation of metabolism, increasing the risk of weight gain, according to the Sleep Foundation. So, turn off your TV, phone and any bedside lights, and consider investing in blackout curtains to block light from outside.
7. Eat on a schedule.
Charlotte Harrison, a London-based nutritionist at SpoonGuru, recommended keeping meal and sleep times fairly consistent. “Our body runs on a circadian rhythm, which is the 24-hour schedule our bodies use to help us to function. It’s the body’s internal clock,” she explained. “Meal times have a lot of influence on our circadian rhythm, so scheduling our food is very important. For example, if your body is used to eating between 6-8 p.m. then it knows when to prepare for incoming food by releasing the ‘hunger hormones,’ ghrelin and leptin, digest the meal, and then release the hormone melatonin to help us wind down for sleep. If we keep to the same rough schedule then our body can be prepared, and we can really get the most out of our meal and sleep times.”
8. Eat a small dinner.
There’s an old saying: Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a lord and dinner like pauper. There really is some truth in it. Eating a big dinner too close to bedtime will take up your body’s energy trying to digest instead of detoxing and recharging. So focus on a smaller dinner and a larger breakfast. And reserve your snacking for mornings and afternoons.
According to Harrison, if you suffer from ailments like heartburn, eating a heavy meal before bed is likely to keep you up. “Even just the digestion process is enough to keep you awake at night,” she explained. A recent study found that participants who ate a late-night snack broke down less fat than when they ate the same amount of calories earlier in the day. So, keep dinner light and small — but don’t go to bed starving either.
9. Don’t drink before bed.
Bogan suggested limiting your intake of alcohol and other substances as they can cause sleep disruption (not to mention easily adding a few hundred calories to your daily total). An evening cocktail may sound like it would be super relaxing, but even one alcoholic drink too close to bedtime can impede the body’s ability to burn calories. This is because instead of focusing on burning fat as it should, the body is busy trying to metabolize the alcohol instead. So while a glass of wine with dinner is OK, leave it at that.
10. Eat protein all day long.
Feeding the body protein every few hours helps stabilize blood-sugar levels. And, this speeds up the metabolism all day (and night!) long. Protein is for building muscle, and it will fill you up, preventing overeating and the urge to graze on processed foods full of empty calories that can inhibit weight loss.
James Collier, a U.K.-based nutritionist and co-founder of Huel.com (a healthy food company), said that the body can only utilize around 30-35 grams of protein in one sitting. So if you’re looking to build muscle, it’s important to include it in every meal. Lean meats like chicken and turkey breast are always an easy go-to, and plant-based options like beans, quinoa, nuts and edamame can help keep your meals interesting, while also adding a healthy dose of fiber (another important nutrient that fills you up and aids in weight loss).
11. Banish electronics from the bedroom.
To lose weight overnight, all blue light devices — laptop, tablet and/or smartphone — need to go. Studies have shown that nighttime exposure to the blue light they all emit disrupts the production of the melatonin the body needs to promote sleep. In addition, a study conducted by researchers at Northwestern University reported that blue light exposure at night increases hunger and insulin resistance, which can, of course, lead to weight gain and not just the disruption of the body’s fat-burning power.
12. Go to bed earlier.
Aside from leaving you less time in the evenings to roam around the house and potentially snack, going to bed early can help ensure you get enough sleep. If you have a hard time falling or staying asleep, keep the room cool, dark and free of electronics. As Bogan recommended, set your thermostat to 65 degrees and leave your phone out of your room.
Keep a book on your bedside table to help you unwind. By going to bed earlier, you’ll ensure that your body has enough time to sleep and fall into your body’s circadian rhythm, both things that contribute to weight loss, according to research.