6 Slimming Sleep Secrets

The latest research shows that when it comes to weight loss, beauty rest may be more important than you realize.

September 9, 2016

A yawn-inducing stat: 40 percent of Americans get just six hours of sleep or fewer per night, according to a recent Gallup poll. And groggy mornings and a cranky 'tude aren't the only side effects of insufficient shut-eye, either. The latest science shows that missing out on sleep can lead to a host of health hazards, including weight gain. In fact, an analysis of the sleep-weight connection conducted by researchers at Columbia University found that people who sleep less than seven hours per night are heavier, gain more weight over time, and have a harder time losing weight!

More: 50 Ways to Sleep Better Tonight

The bottom line: If you're trying to slim down or shape up, hitting the sack is just as important as hitting the gym (and NOT hitting the drive-thru). Here are 6 reasons your bed can be the ultimate weight-loss tool:

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Slimming Sleep Secret #1: It stops late night snacking

For most people, the hours you spend tucked in bed is a rare time where you don't eat anything for eight hours straight—there's no snacking, no sugary sodas, no tempting treats; only blissful dreams. Can you guess, then, what happens when people stay up half the night? Yep, more awake time means more munching—enough to make you gain nearly two pounds in only a week, according to researchers at the University of Pennsylvania.

More: 5 Cures for Your Late-Night Cravings

Over the course of a week, they found that sleep-restricted subjects (sleeping from 4 a.m. to 8 a.m.) gained more weight than their well-rested counterparts (sleeping from 11 p.m. to 8 a.m.), mostly because they ate 550 calories from 11 p.m. to 4 p.m., a time that the other group spent in bed asleep.

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Slimming Sleep Secret #2: It helps you burn more calories

Not only do you have more energy to take on the day after a good night's sleep, but your body also burns more calories, even when you're not working out. Resting energy expenditure is the amount of calories your body burns normally at rest, and a study from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that normal sleepers had a resting energy expenditure that was 5 percent higher than their tired counterparts. They also burned 20 percent more calories after a meal versus sleep-deprived people!

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Slimming Sleep Secret #3: It leads to more fat loss

Even if you eat the exact same diet as your friend, if you're not getting the sleep your body needs, you won't drop as much fat as she will. A recent study from the University of Chicago compared the weight-loss results from sleeping 8.5 hours per night versus only 5.5 hours per night. In both conditions, people ate the same number of calories (about 1,450 calories per day). While both groups lost about 6.5 pounds, more than half of that weight was fat for well-rested people, compared to only a quarter for tired participants.

More: 14 Easy Ways to Lose Weight All Day

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Slimming Sleep Secret #4: It makes you a smarter supermarket shopper

If you've ever gone grocery shopping when you're hungry, you've probably loaded up your cart with way more calories than you intended, and it turns out that a similar thing happens when you're exhausted. In a study published in the journal Obesity, sleep-deprived men bought nearly 1,300 calories more than well-rested men. Remarkably, this was independent of hunger, because all the participants (sleep-deprived or not) had been fed a standardized breakfast before the test.

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Slimming Sleep Secret #5: It helps you practice portion control

When a standard burger at 5 Guys Burger and Fries contains two patties, it's clear that there's a portion distortion problem in this country, and it's only made worse when you're tired. In a Swedish study, well-rested and sleep-deprived participants were asked to complete a computerized "ideal portion size" task where they could manipulate their serving size on a screen. Their findings: sleep-starved people added 35 additional calories in snacks to their digital "plate" compared to well-rested participants.

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Slimming Sleep Secret #6: It keeps your brain on track

You don't just feel or think differently when you're tired; your brain actually functions differently. Researchers at Harvard Medical School performed brain scans on people who reported high daytime sleepiness and measured their brain activity in response to high-calorie foods. The scans revealed reduced activation in the "ventromedial prefrontal cortex," an area of the brain involved with inhibition and behavior control. Translation: Lowered inhibitions indicate a tendency to overeat when you're tired. 

More: The Sleeping Position That May Protect Your Brain

What's more, another study from Columbia University also found brain activity differences in sleepy people's response to food. Their study revealed increased activation in the "insular cortex," which regulates pleasure-seeking behaviors. Importantly, unhealthy food activates this region more than healthy food, which means that skipping out on sleep could make it harder to skip out on office cupcakes.

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