A lack of sleep may be a big contributor to America’s considerable weight problem.
The National Sleep Foundation (NSF) recommends 7-9 hours of sleep each night for adults, ages 18-64. Yet, more than a third of American adults are not getting enough sleep on a regular basis, according to a CDC study.
Sleeping less than seven hours per day is associated with an increased risk of developing chronic conditions such as obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke and frequent mental distress, according to the CDC.
The hunger hormones leptin and ghrelin have gotten a lot of attention in recent years. Though you may have heard of them, you may not be familiar with their functions.
Think of the ‘l’ in leptin standing for lose. Leptin suppresses appetite and therefore contributes to weight loss. Think of the ‘g’ in ghrelin standing for gain. Ghrelin is a fast-acting hormone that increases hunger and leads to weight gain.
When you’re sleep deprived, research shows, ghrelin levels surge while leptin plummets. The result is an increase in hunger.
The key to reducing your nighttime cravings is to get more sleep; 7-9 hours.
Another key to successful weight loss technique is intermittent fasting or time-restricted eating.
Recent research shows the benefits of intermittent fasting, and those who have tried it often view it as a sustainable, long-term solution.
In the simplest form, intermittent fasting would amount to 12 hours on and 12 hours off. For example, food can be eaten only between 7am and 7pm or 8am and 8pm.
However, research shows that the sweet spot seems to be 10 hours on and 14 hours off. For example, eating only from 9am to 7pm, and then fasting until 9am the next day.
Some intermittent-fasting proponents use only an eight-hour feeding window, with 16 hours of continual fasting each day. For example, eating meals between 12pm and 8pm each day, and fasting at all other times.
This helps to thwart any late-night snacking habits.
The benefit of time-restricted eating is that it allows you to naturally reduce your food intake without counting calories. That’s preferable to most people.
Ultimately, intermittent fasting is about the “when” of eating, not the “what” or “how much.”
Some researchers believe that the rise of later nighttime eating may have thrown off our evolutionary circadian rhythm, the 24-hour cycle that governs the physiological processes of humans and most other living beings, which may be contributing significantly to increases in obesity.
Some studies suggest that by honoring the circadian rhythm and restricting feeding primarily to the daylight hours, we can improve our health and prevent disease.
Fasting allows us to eat in harmony with our circadian rhythm. Circadian rhythms — which determine the sleeping and feeding patterns of all animals, including humans — can be modulated by external cues, such as sunlight.
However, living in the 21st Century has disrupted our circadian rhythms. There is so much artificial light at night that the mind can confuse it with daytime. We also spend an exceptional amount of time (up to 12 hours a day) in front of screens (TVs, computers, tablets and smart phones) that emit blue light, which stimulates the retinal nerves and brain.
21st Century adults spend, on average, 87%-93% of our 24-hours indoors and less than 5% of hours outdoors during the day. This light-dark rhythm disruption leads to less daytime alertness, and promotes depression (especially in older adults) and ADHD.
This has resulted in circadian misalignment, in which our central and peripheral clocks are out of synch. Examples: too much light at night, sleep during daytime and food intake at night.
Time-restricted feeding (12-16 hours of non-feeding) has proven to be the best match to our circadian clocks. The key is to eliminating nocturnal eating. The health benefits of time-restricted feeding double every extra hour of non-feeding time beyond 12 hours, up to 16 hours.
While it is certainly wise to eat a variety of whole foods with high-quality sources of protein, fat and carbohydrate, timing may be the most crucial element when it comes to our eating habits.
Another key is mindfulness. Being a more conscious (mindful) eater also helps you make healthier decisions during your eating window each day, so that you have adequate protein, fiber and water in your diet.
In one study (by Dr. Satchidananda Panda, PhD), participants who adjusted their feeding time from their typical 14–15 hours down to 10 hours not only shed an average of 4% of their body weight, but also reported significantly improved energy levels and more satisfying sleep. Most remarkably, they ate their normal foods and didn’t change their exercise habits.
Choosing to commit to intermittent fasting is easier if you do it with your partner/spouse or family. Any lifestyle change made in conjuncture with someone you live with can make a big difference. It creates a support system and can help keep you accountable.
At the least, focus on getting 7-9 hours of sleep each night and eliminate nighttime snacking. However, you may want to try intermittent fasting / time-restricted eating for about a month to see how it works for you.
It’s not very challenging. I do it and it’s made a difference for me. In fact, I highly recommend it.