As reports show lockdown has triggered a sharp increase in anxiety-related sleeping problems, research reveals the impact a sleepless night can also have on our weight-loss efforts, with people less likely to cook healthy meals and cancelling planned physical activity. Despite our best efforts, a lack of sleep makes us more likely to reach for sugary or fatty foods for an energy boost, which in turn sees our weight go up not down and we find it even harder to sleep.
The survey of 3,100 slimming club members reveals nearly two thirds (62%) said they had problems sleeping, with many waking up more than twice a night and tiredness affecting their diet and activity choices. Members with a higher BMI were more likely to struggle with their sleep. However, reassuringly, the survey also found that as people lost weight they reported improvements in their sleep.
The research reveals one in three respondents said they are less likely to cook healthy homemade meals (36%) and nearly half of those questioned said they are less likely to engage in physical activity (48%) after a bad night’s sleep.
The findings also show:
- three in four said that their food choices were affected by poor sleep (73%) with the most likely go-to snacks when tired being:
o chocolate and sweets (66%)
o biscuits and cakes (41%)
o crisps or salty snacks (36%)
- One in three also said they drank more caffeinated drinks than usual (30%) and just over a quarter (28%) were less likely to eat what they had planned
- Of those who said their food choices were impacted by a lack of sleep, over half (52%) said they were more likely to buy on impulse, one in four (39%) said they would buy more unhealthy food than usual and 28% said they would buy more convenience food
- A third were more likely to eat more sugary or fatty food for an energy boost (31%)
The research, from UK and Ireland weight-loss organisation Slimming World, is released as part of their Snooze More to Lose More survey* which surveyed its members over the course of week about aspects of their sleep. The survey of 3,156 adults looked at how poor sleep impacts weight loss and how weight, in turn, can impact on our ability to get a good night’s sleep.
However, almost 50% of Slimming World members losing 15% or more body weight said their sleep improved after losing weight and over a third of the members surveyed said they’d been sleeping better since joining Slimming World (38%), and the survey showed the more weight Slimming World members lost, the more likely they were to report improvements in sleep.
We knew from listening to our members how poor sleep can impact weight-loss success and how members feel their weight affects their sleep. It becomes a vicious sleep cycle – we reach for the high-fat, high-sugar foods because we’re tired, our weight goes up not down, despite our best efforts, and we find it even harder to sleep.”
The findings are released on World Sleep Day (Friday 19th March), at a time when many of us have been struggling to get a good night’s sleep because of anxiety, change and disruption to our lives caused by Covid-19. Previous research by Slimming World has found 16% of adults said they were drinking more alcohol during the first lockdown, which although initially causes drowsiness can also lead to a restless night.**
For people trying to lose weight, getting support to make healthy choices, helping them to become aware of their sleep patterns and receiving tailored advice on slumber strategies is key.
Laura Holloway, from Slimming World’s Research and Scientific Affairs team, says: “We conducted the survey to improve our understanding about how sleep, or lack of it, affected our members’ lives and their weight-loss journeys. The findings revealed losing weight with Slimming World has been beneficial to improving sleep for our members generally and reducing sleep problems.
“We knew from listening to our members how poor sleep can impact weight-loss success and how members feel their weight affects their sleep. It becomes a vicious sleep cycle – we reach for the high-fat, high-sugar foods because we’re tired, our weight goes up not down, despite our best efforts, and we find it even harder to sleep. Cue an alarming impact on our wellbeing! Lack of sleep affects key hormones and neurotransmitters that help regulate the appetite – and the way the body metabolises fat. Research also shows that poor sleep can stimulate the reward centres in the brain, which can influence the desire for food and mean you get more pleasure from it – making it doubly hard to resist temptation!
“Although we know it’s not always that simple, especially with the challenges and worries we’ve all been dealing with throughout the pandemic, if you want to lose weight successfully, getting a good night’s sleep can be crucial. In our Slimming World groups, members can talk through their experiences and identify their personal behaviours, including sleep patterns. Tips and tired-day tactics are shared and there is a wealth of advice and sleep habit strategies available online to members.
“One top tip is to try to batch-cook healthy meals for the week ahead – that way there will always be something comforting and slimming friendly on standby on a too-tired-to-cook day. Avoiding alcohol will also help. While it can initially cause drowsiness, which might help you to drop off, it can also lead to a restless night, early waking and a worse sleep overall. Banning screens from the bedrooms, enjoying a brisk walk in the evening and building a relaxing routine before bedtime like having a warm bath, reading a good book or having a hot, milky drink are all sleep habit strategies which can help.”
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