If you sleep less than 8 hours a night, you’ll likely gain weight

Nothing replaces a good night’s sleep. As noted by Time Magazine, “It’s nature’s panacea, more powerful than any drug in its ability to restore and rejuvenate the human brain and body.”

Anything less than the recommended seven to nine hours has been proven to lead to emotional problems like anxiety and depression, puts you at heightened risk for certain diseases, and may even impact your career according to Harvard.

A lack of sleep also makes any preexisting physical or psychological issues you suffer from worse. 

One of the more surprising downsides to an irregular sleep schedule is the correlation between subpar rest and higher body mass index (BMI).

A recent study published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine used Fitbit wearable technology to collect sleep data from more than 120,000 people over a 2-year period. The study found those with a BMI over 30 had shorter sleep durations and more variability in their patterns. 

As the researchers of the study wrote, “These findings provide further support to the notion that sleep patterns are associated with weight management and overall health.

The findings also support the potential value of including both sleep duration and individual sleep patterns when studying sleep-related health outcomes.”

While sleep studies like this one have been conducted before, the presence of health data through wearable technology gives researchers the opportunity to accurately track participants discreetly, without relying on memory of the participants’ for data.

Still skeptical?

The findings mentioned above are inline with other studies which suggest a similar link between sleep restriction and obesity. Katherine Zeratsky, R.D., L.D. wrote for Mayo Clinic that, “Research suggests an association between sleep restriction and negative changes in metabolism. In adults, sleeping four hours a night, compared with 10 hours a night, appears to increase hunger and appetite — in particular for calorie-dense foods high in carbohydrates.”

Whether or not you agree with the correlation between sleep and weight gain, one thing is clear; getting enough sleep is essential to your health. Adults between the ages of 18 and 64 need to hit the seven to nine hour range of sleep each night according to National Sleep Foundation guidelines published in 2015.

Mark Zielinski, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard, even believes “Sleep is the single most effective thing you can do to reset your brain and body for health.” In Time Magazine, Zielinski goes as far as calling sleep the fountain of youth. Our unwillingnes (or inability) to sleep enough one is one of the unhealthiest things we can do, linked to a premature diet like smoking, poor diet, and lack of exercise. 

Sleep and the pandemic

Obviously, we need to account for quarantine and the coronavirus pandemic. Falling asleep feels different and can be an unpredictable occurance with changing schedules and inconsistent work hours. A recent survey by SleepStandards, titled, “Sleep Habits Post Quarantine in the US (2020),” examined sleep habits both before and after lockdown measures caused by the pandemic. The survey polled 1015 Americans between the ages of 18 and 79 (55% female; 13.4% generation Z; 51.6% millennial; 9.9% baby boomer).

Survey findings included:

  • 53% indicated they spend less time sleeping than before the pandemic
  • 67% believe their sleep was healthier before the beginning of lockdown
  • 98% have developed new sleep problems post-lockdown
  • 68% feel stress or find it hard to sleep, even after lockdown measures were lifted

Therefore, it is more important than ever to start building a better sleeping habit while improving your quality of sleep. 

Several tips to improve your sleep

If you struggle to fall asleep like many people, there are several contributing factors to think about.

It starts with your sleep hygiene, or the set of behaviors and practices that facilitate healthy and productive sleep. When you start analyzing your nighttime habits, it will become evident as to why you’re having trouble sleeping each night.

One of the main, and most obvious, challenges we face is our reliance on technology. Turn off your phone, television, and any other electronics. Light from your phone can interfere with melatonin production and keep your mind active.

We have to be careful of the timing of our “light consumption” before bed and consider things like streetlights leaking through the blinds. 

Here are a few more sleep best practices to follow:

  1. Set a consistent sleep time and stick with it
  2. Limit light and noise in your room
  3. Try yoga before getting in bed 
  4. Avoid caffeine and alcohol before bed
  5. Regulate the temperature in your room
  6. Exercise daily
  7. Experiment with journaling and other outlets to reduce anxiety or a stimulated mind
  8. Build a nighttime routine 

To prevent weight loss and other serious health issues linked to poor sleeping habits, it’s important to avoid triggering anxiety and fear before bed. Make your space as calming and conducive to quality sleep as possible and maybe think about reading the news in the morning-not while you toss and turn in bed.  

One last thing

It’s not enough to blow money on sleeping pills or heated blankets.

Instead, really works to make sleep an essential part of your day like eating or drinking water. Like Dr. Richard Castriotta, FCCP, FAASM, sleep medicine specialist and pulmonologist at Keck School of Medicine of USC in California, told Healthline, “The healthiest sleep is to have a regular bedtime and wake-up time,” he explained. “Circadian rhythm disruption will cause problems, as anyone who’s ever experienced jet lag will confirm.”