By Gina Aliotti
You’re on a weight-loss journey, eating a well-balanced diet of lean protein, complex carbs, and healthy fats. You have removed all processed foods and most sugars from your diet and are eating lean and green. Your exercise program has been consistent, with four to six workouts a week, and your water intake is on point. For some reason, though, your weight isn’t budging, and you are starting to get frustrated. You blame genetics and complain that your body just isn’t going lose the extra 20 pounds. Does that sound familiar? The truth is, there is more to the picture than diet and exercise, including one big variable people often forget about—sleep! Without quality sleep, your body won’t respond properly, and that could be what’s holding you back from reaching your goals.
In our fast-paced world, with so little downtime and the need to hustle 24/7, it’s difficult to incorporate this key ingredient into our busy lives. Our to-do lists are a mile long, and if you are a busy working mom like me, your sleep is the first to go. The constant battle becomes going to sleep at a decent hour vs. staying up to get things done while the house is quiet and the kids are asleep. How can we get anything done when our kids are, well, being kids? So we wake up before dawn and stay up late—with no time for naps because every waking minute is precious time to check things off the list.
The most interesting thing is that we’re not alone. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 35 percent of adult Americans are sleep deprived. It’s a growing problem and one that you need to address if you want to reach your fitness goals, increase your productivity, and improve your overall health and well-being.
How sleep deprivation can hold you back:
1) Not getting enough sleep affects your insulin output, causing fat gain. Too many days of being sleep deprived throws off your hormonal balance and can lead you to insulin resistance. When your insulin functions correctly, fat cells remove fatty acids from your bloodstream and prevent fat from being stored. When you become insulin resistant, fats circulate in the blood, increasing insulin and causing your body to store fat.
2) Lack of sleep causes hunger. Many people believe that they can avoid crazy hunger cravings with willpower and self-control. In actuality, hunger is a true sign that something is out of balance. It is controlled by two hormones: leptin inhibits hunger, while ghrelin stimulates it. They two must remain in balance for you to lose weight. When you are sleep deprived, they are thrown out of balance, which can cause you to feel hungry when, in fact, you’re just sleep deprived.
3) It also sabotages your workouts. You are crushing your workouts, but if you’re not getting enough sleep, your body cannot recover properly. You need quality rest to repair and build muscle. Lack of sleep can not only reduce your muscle growth but also cause muscle loss. To optimize fat loss and your metabolism, you need to maintain as much lean muscle as possible. That’s only possible when you get enough rest. Getting better-quality sleep will give you more energy for your workouts and allow your body the time it needs to recover, making you a fat-burning machine.
Tips for Getting More Sleep:
If you’re busy and can’t seem to squeeze in more than five or six hours of sleep, try these strategies:
1) Make sleep a priority. Understanding the importance of sleep is half the battle. Now you must be mindful of it and prioritize your day so that you do what needs to be done, but you don’t waste hours on things that can wait until tomorrow.
I use mantras to keep me focused on my priorities. I ask myself the question, is this task moving me closer to my goal or distracting me from it. If the answer is distracting, I simply stop what I’m doing and reprioritize. We tend to get lost in the shuffle of scrolling our social media and then responding to an unimportant text that pops up. Those distractions can suck time out of your day. Be focused on what you are doing, and let go of the diversions.
2) Focus on quality over quantity. If five or six hours is, realistically, all the sleep you’re going to get, make sure that it’s quality sleep. In all that you do, quality should be your goal. I roll that approach into every thing: from my workouts to the food I eat, quality will always trump quantity. Take steps to ensure that your sleep is not disrupted. Doing a nighttime meditation, listening to calming music, turning your phone off or diffusing essential oils are all things that can help you get a better night’s sleep.
3) Use proper supplementation. If you try the above suggestions and still find yourself having problems getting to sleep or staying asleep, there are natural supplements you can take to help improve the situation, like 5-HTP, melatonin, chamomile and GABA. They can help you get into a deeper REM, enabling you to wake up feeling refreshed and ready to tackle the world.
As you continue on your weight-loss journey, use the tools and tips I suggest so you can sleep your way to your best body and a more productive life.
Gina Aliotti is a renowned fitness and lifestyle expert whose mission is to inspire and teach others how to maintain a healthy lifestyle in a realistic way. A native Californian, she received a B.S. in foods and nutrition from San Diego State University and was a top figure star, earning her IFBB pro card in 2005. Aliotti won many titles, including Ms. Figure International at the Arnold Sports Festival, and runner-up at the Figure Olympia three years in a row. Now a full-time working mom, Aliotti is a Certified Personal Trainer, Certified CrossFit Instructor, Certified Yoga Instructor, Specialist in Fitness Nutrition, and a marathon runner. Find information on her personal coaching programs and online fitness plans at www.GinaAliotti.com. Aliotti is also the co-founder, with Dana Kaye, of Devotion Nutrition, offering high-quality products that cut sugar while adding flavor to clean foods (www.devotionnutrition.com). She lives in Carlsbad with her husband and two children.