Have you tried everything you know to do in an attempt to lose weight? You’ve hit the gym a little more frequently, cut back on the calories, avoided some temptation foods that you know you shouldn’t be eating. Still, no luck in shedding the pounds. What else could be left? Would you laugh if someone told you that it might be something as simple as turning off the tv or lights in your bedroom at night? Hold that chuckle for now.
Believe it or not, there could be a link between being exposed to light during your sleeping hours and gaining weight, at least for women. A new study published in JAMA Internal Medicine found an association of weight gain in ladies who had exposure to some type of artificial light in their bedroom while they were sleeping. Poor quality and/or lack of sleep are known risk factors for obesity. Trickle-down effects can range everywhere from having less energy to exercise, to mood and hormonal shifts that affect judgement and food choices.
Melatonin, our “sleep hormone”, can be suppressed by artificial light sources, tricking our brain into thinking we should still be awake. This can lead to disruptions in the natural sleep-wake cycle and perpetuate the difficulties. Poor sleep can also affect other hormones such as testosterone, which can impact our ability to burn body fat, and cortisol, which impacts everything from our blood sugar balance and our weight, to even our ability to fall asleep and stay asleep through the night. Needless to say, getting a proper night’s sleep should be high on the priority list!
When researchers looked at data from almost 44,000 women who reported on their sleeping habits, they found that women who slept with a light on were 17% more likely to gain 11 pounds or more over a five-year period (light meaning a tv or a lamp-type source). This did not include women who were overnight shift workers, daytime sleepers or were pregnant, and the results didn’t change when accounting for physical activity level and diet. Ages ranged from 35 to 74.
As mentioned earlier, there are several possibilities as to why disrupted sleep from light could harbor the potential for weight gain. Therefore, eliminating the source of light should be easiest step in the process: simply turn the tv or lamps off! Sounds easy, but there may be underlying issues that need to be addressed if there are reasons why one feels a need to have them on at bedtime. Some people relate that they need the distraction of tv to help them mentally wind down after a chaotic day. Others are still doing work at night and have lights on to be able to complete their tasks, be it household or job related. Some just fall asleep with one or both on and have just been stuck in that pattern as their “normal” routine, not knowing the potential ramifications.
If sleep itself is an issue, as in having trouble falling or staying or both, the first step is to get to the root cause. Are hormones out of balance and not allowing us to wind down properly, or possibly peaking during the night when they aren’t supposed be due to blood sugar drops, pain or stress? Are there lifestyle habits that need to be addressed that are preventing one from having a good night’s rest? So many aspects of our health from our brain function to our immune system to regulating our hormones are dependent on getting proper sleep. Potentially throwing weight management in there now too, if you are struggling with sleep, a good functional medicine evaluation may be just what you need. That way, you can find the underlying issues that need to be addressed so you can stop counting sheep and start giving the body the rest that it needs.