12/15/2014 06:12 EST | Updated 02/14/2015 05:59 EST

Is Sleep the Missing Factor in Weight Management?

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As most health professionals who work in the weight management field already know, the simple advice of "eat less and exercise more" is far removed from the complicated answer to weight loss. Research suggests there is another major factor that can influence your risk for gaining weight and it has nothing to do with how much or little exercise you do or food you eat ( least not directly related...). SLEEP.

We all know that lack of sleep is detrimental to our health but does it influence our weight?

Apparently, for adults, if you sleep less than six hours a night, your risk for being obese is raised by a factor of 3.8 (compared to adults who slept seven to eight hours) and in one study, this was the greatest impact on the participants' weight. Other impacts on weight included a high dis-inhibition behaviour (one meaning is interpreted as overeating in response to external cues, or cues not related to hunger. External cues include other people eating or ads on TV), low calcium intake and high hunger behaviour.

Other studies have shown that over nine hours of sleep are also associated with more likelihood of weight gain. Therefore, it is recommended that adults aim for seven to eight hours of sleep per night.

However, if you were thinking about catching up on sleep a few nights of the week while skimping on other nights, think again. Other studies have shown that when you are sleep deprived (say four hours of sleep), your body produces hormones and signals that increase hunger and appetite. One study showed that the sleep deprived participants ate 559 more calories the day following four hours of sleep.

Sleeping less increases hormones that increase hunger and appetite, not to mention that when you are awake longer you have more opportunity to eat AND if you are tired, you are less likely to exercise.


So if you are trying to lose weight keep in mind that sleeping fewer than seven hours can impact compliance to a lower calorie diet! And if you are trying to maintain your weight, increasing sleep to seven to eight hours per night can limit fat gain over time.


  • Easy Forward Bend (variation of Sukhasana)
    Easy Forward Bend (variation of Sukhasana)
    The easy forward bend pose is accessible even to beginners, and it's a great one to try before bedtime. If you're tight in the hips, Bielkus advises sitting on top of a pillow to make the pose a bit more relaxing.

    "This one is good for sleep," says Bielkus. "It also eases tension and lets the hips open up, and just creates an overall sense of ease in the body."
  • Standing Forward Bend (Uttanasana)
    Standing Forward Bend (Uttanasana)
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    To perform this pose, stand with the feet about six inches apart and fold the torso to the ground, reaching toward the ground or bending the arms and grabbing opposite hand to opposite elbow. In addition to helping to relieve headaches and insomnia, the pose can also be helpful for lowering stress levels, according to Yoga Journal.

    "Sway a little side to side and breathe," says Bielkus. "Bend the knees as much as needed to ease any strain. Tension in the legs and hips will start to release."
  • Child's Pose (Balasana)
    Child's Pose (Balasana)
    The quintessential resting pose in many yoga classes, child's pose helps to calm the mind and relieve tension in the body. Fold the torso over the legs with the arms extended or by the sides, and rest the forehead on the ground.

    "Take long deep breaths," Bielkus suggests. "Massage the forehead left to right easing tension at the brow point."
  • Plow Pose (Halasana)
    Plow Pose (Halasana)
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    Yoga Journal recommends staying in the plow pose for one to five minutes to fall asleep easier. Lie down on your back, lifting your legs over your head and then to the ground behind you, with your hands either on your back for support or on the floor.

    "By turning the flow of blood around, you bring new vitality into the body," says Bielkus.
  • Legs Up The Wall Pose (Viparita Karani)
    Legs Up The Wall Pose (Viparita Karani)
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    This simple pose, performed against a wall, is excellent for evening relaxation and stress relief. Bielkus recommends staying in the pose for as long as five minutes, with the eyes closed and using a soothing eye pillow if desired.

    "When we flip the legs up, the blood can rush back down to the heart," says Bielkus. "It has a soothing quality."
  • Corpse Pose (Savasana)
    Corpse Pose (Savasana)
    Get your body into sleep mode with a simple corpse pose, focusing the attention on the body and breath, and letting go of the day's worries.

    "By focusing the mind and bringing awareness in, you take the mind off of what is causing stress or restlessness," says Bielkus.
  • Supine Spinal Twist (Supta Matsyendrasana)
    Supine Spinal Twist (Supta Matsyendrasana)
    This reclining twisted pose can easily be performed in bed before you fall asleep. Lie down on your back and bring the right knee into your chest and then across your left side. Extend the right arm out and gaze to the right, taking several deep breaths and then repeating on the other side. You can also try bringing both legs up and then over to each side, as pictured at left.

    "Gentle twists relieve tension throughout the whole spine and also aid in digestion and help us rinse out some tension from the day," Bielkus says.
  • Seated Spinal Twist (Ardha Matsyendrasana)
    Seated Spinal Twist (Ardha Matsyendrasana)
    Like the supine twist, the seated spinal twist (also known as the half lord of the fishes pose) can create a sense of relaxation in the body while gently stretching the spine. The stretch can be practiced with both legs bent or with one outstretched.
  • Reclining Butterfly (Supta Baddha Konasana)
    Reclining Butterfly (Supta Baddha Konasana)
    A variation of the basic butterfly pose (pictured at left), the reclining butterfly can help the body get into rest mode. Lie down on your back -- on your bed or on a mat -- and bring the feet together, splaying out the knees in a diamond. If your hips are tight and the pose feels too intense, Bielkus suggests putting a folded blanket or cushion under each of the knees.

    "Bring one hand to your heart and one hand to your belly," Bielkus says. "Breathe deeply observing the breath move in and out of the body."
  • Left Nostril Breathing (Surya Bhedana)
    Left Nostril Breathing (Surya Bhedana)
    To try this relaxing breathing exercise (pranayama), you can either sit up crossed-legged or lie down on your right side. Cover the right nostril with your thumb and extend the fingers out. Then take five to 10 deep breathes out of your left nostril.

    "If I can't sleep ... As soon as I've done three left nostril breaths, I'm out," says Bielkus. "It's really, really effective."