Wellness & Fitness

How to lose weight through sleep


Mary, in her 40s, works at the marketing department of an international fitness products company.

The round-the-clock work that she does keeps her occupied the whole day and most evenings.

Mary notes that the situation became worse last year when the company let go of many employees due to losses brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic.

"I am happy that I still have a job but the workload has increased ten-fold. I am doing work that was previously handled by three people and it is killing me. I am always under pressure to meet deadlines and have to work late into the night to complete tasks. So, most days, I sleep for only four to five hours," she says.

Aside from the insufficient sleep, Mary notes that she has also been putting on a lot of weight, which is also disturbing her.

"Early last year, before the pandemic, I weighed 70 kilogrammes, but I am now at 80 yet nothing has changed with regard to my diet and I also jog a little bit over the weekend like I previously did. This is really bothering me."

Mary is among the many Kenyans on weight loss journeys that seem to be achieving minimal or no impact at all.

Unknown to many people like them, having sufficient sleep is as important as exercise and diet in maintaining a healthy weight that guards against obesity, which increases the risk of lifestyle diseases like hypertension, cancer and diabetes.

Research shows that without sufficient sleep, the body is unable to heal itself and ‘reboot’ so as to enhance the proper functioning of systems that promote healthy weight as well as other body processes.

Research shows that lack of sufficient sleep increases stress levels in the body, leading to the production of a stress-induced hormone known as cortisol which predisposes the body to weight gain.

When human beings are faced with immediate stress, such as seeing a snake or a speeding car about to hit them, the body's 'fight or flight' response is usually activated to enhance survival.

This is achieved through an increase in the levels of cortisol which triggers the body to produce more glucose (sugar). The heart rate also increases. This provides the burst of energy required to respond to the immediate threat like running at full speed to evade the snake or oncoming car.

But as soon as the immediate threat has been neutralised, the body usually goes back to normal and reduces the production of the cortisol hormone, which ideally is not meant to be at high levels because too much of it leads to other adverse health effects.

With increasing workloads in most organisations and busy life schedules, sometimes people are unable to get sufficient sleep for the recommended seven to eight hours a night.

The accumulated fatigue ends up triggering the body to increase cortisol production, which hikes glucose levels in the body.

But these high quantities of glucose are underused and end up being stored as fat since unlike physical stressors (like a snake), physiological causes of stress cannot be addressed using a physical response such as running or fighting, which would use up the glucose produced.

Aside from the rise in cortisol levels, health experts also note that when people are short on sleep, their energy levels go down, making them tired and disinterested to engage in activities such as physical exercises or long walks that usually help the body to shed unwanted calories.

Those affected usually just want to sleep while at home as even the normal household chores like cleaning or cooking appear like uphill tasks for them.

Research has also found that when people are fatigued for long periods, a part of the brain that controls cravings is activated, leading to an increased desire for ‘feel good’ foods such as sweetened beverages like soft drinks, fried dishes like chips and processed foods like sausages or bacon that enhance weight gain.

Therefore, while people might be able to delay or stop food cravings when they are well-rested, their sleep-deprived brain may have trouble saying no to these foods.

Indeed, a past study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that when people were starved of sleep, late-night snacking increased, and they were more likely to choose high carbohydrates snacks.

In another study done at the University of Chicago, sleep-deprived participants chose snacks with twice as much fat as those who slept at least eight hours.

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