The Surprising Reason You're Gaining Weight
An erratic sleep schedule can sabotage a healthy diet and workout regimen, according to a recently published study in the journal Behavioral Sleep Medicine. Researchers followed the sleep patterns of 132 first-year students at Brown University for nine weeks. You might guess that college students' all-nighters and late bedtimes would play a role, but researchers discovered a different factor: variability.
Even if students got the same amount of sleep per night, those who varied the times they went to bed and woke up — say, midnight and 8 a.m. one day and 2 a.m. and 10 a.m. the next — gained more weight than those who stuck to more consistent bedtimes. The study posited that when you shift your sleep and wake times daily, you're essentially left with a case of chronic jet lag. So even if you get enough sleep, when it's on the "wrong" schedule, you can confuse your metabolism enough to promote weight gain.
Although we aren't all college freshmen, if you have an erratic work schedule or tend to sleep in on weekends, you may be at risk for unnecessary weight gain. Luckily, there's a simple solution: Set an alarm clock for the same time each day, even on weekends or days off. It'll help you sleep better by maintaining your body's internal clock.
If you're serious about weight loss success, don't miss these 20 science-backed suggestions to lose while you snooze, compliments of Zero Belly Diet researchers.
SLEEP-SLIMMING TRICK #1
Tryp your sleep switch
Don't count sheep, eat lamb! (Or better yet, a bit of turkey.) Tryptophan, an amino acid found in most meats, has demonstrated powerful sleep-inducing effects. A recent study among insomniacs found that just 1/4 gram—about what you'll find in a skinless chicken drumstick or three ounces of lean turkey meat—was enough to significantly increase hours of deep sleep. And that can can translate into easy weight loss.
Eat This, Not That! tip: "Any tryptophan-containing food, which includes nuts, chicken, fish, lentils, and eggs, can help usher in sleepyhead syndrome," says Julia Falamas, director of programming and operations at Epic Hybrid Training fitness studio. "If you're the type who can't sleep on a empty stomach, a healthy source of fat like avocado or nut butters can help stave off hunger, while providing restorative properties," she adds.
SLEEP-SLIMMING TRICK #2
Schedule tea time
"There is something about the ritual of sitting down to a soothing cup of tea that tells your brain to slow down and relax," says Falamas. "Some of the best teas for sleep are chamomile, peppermint, lavender and valerian, which actually does have some sedative properties."
Eat This, Not That! tip: Certain teas also have magical weight-loss properties, from dimming your hunger hormones to upping your calorie burn to—literally—melting the fat that's stored in your fat cells. Click here to see how test panelists slept better and lost up to 10 pounds in one week on our new diet plan: The 7-Day Flat-Belly Tea Cleanse!
SLEEP-SLIMMING TRICK #3
Eat whole grains at lunch
You know to avoid big meals, coffee, colas and alcohol before bed, but did you know that it's best to eat your complex carbohydrates at lunchtime, not with dinner? "Serotonin converts to melatonin in your stage 3 REM sleep, and serotonin is sourced from whole-grain complex carbohydrates. So you don't need to have carbs before bed to sleep, just have them at some point through the day," says Cat Smiley, owner of Whistler Fitness Vacations, a weight-loss retreat for women.
Eat This, Not That! tip: Also, to meet your daily fiber goal, "about 20 grams of insoluble fiber is important to enable you to sleep, so aim to eat that daily, and you'll ensure you can convert enough serotonin to sleep well." That's about two pieces of whole grain sprouted bread—avocado toast beckons!—or a cup of brown rice.
SLEEP-SLIMMING TRICK #4
If you eat at night, keep it small
While you shouldn't go to bed starving (that presents its own sleepytime problems), you also shouldn't hit the sack completely stuffed. When you eat a large meal before bed, your body is working to digest it long into the night — and if your body is still worked up, so are you. The later you fall asleep, the less rest you'll get, and you'll wake up feeling groggy and more likely to reach for calorie-dense items.
Eat This, Not That! tip: Instead of eating a monster meal for dinner, try to keep portions about the same as your breakfast and lunch, especially if you eat dinner on the later side. "You want to eat your last meal at least an hour or two before going to bed," says Isabel Smith, MS, RD, CDN. Want the foolproof, sure-fire way to flatten your belly? Click here for these essential 11 Eating Habits That Uncover Your Abs!
SLEEP-SLIMMING TRICK #5
Better yet, set strict kitchen hours
Nighttime fasting—aka closing the kitchen early—may help you lose more weight, even if you eat more food throughout the day, according to a study in the journal Cell Metabolism. Researchers put groups of mice on a high-fat, high-calorie diet for 100 days. Half of them were allowed to nibble throughout the night and day on a healthy, controlled diet, while the others only had access to food for eight hours, but could eat whatever they wanted. The result of the 16-hour food ban? The fasting mice stayed lean, while the mice who noshed 'round the clock became obese—even though both groups consumed the same amount of calories!
Eat This, Not That! tip: Experiment with closing the kitchen at 8pm and skipping breakfast.
SLEEP-SLIMMING TRICK #6
Shake things up
Having a protein shake before hitting the sack may boost your metabolism, according to one Florida State University study. Researchers found that men who consumed an evening snack that included 30 grams of protein had a higher resting metabolic rate the next morning than when eating nothing. Protein is more thermogenic than carbs or fat, meaning your body burns more calories digesting it.
Eat This, Not That! tip: Use vegan protein—recommended in the bestselling Zero Belly Diet—which will give you the same fat-burning, hunger-squelching, muscle-building benefits, without the bloating that comes from whey. For 150+ recipes that will make your belly flat, including amazing vegan smoothies, buy the brand-new book from Abs Diet creator David Zinczenko that helped panelists lose up to 16 pounds in 14 days: Zero Belly Cookbook!
SLEEP-SLIMMING TRICK #7
Make a mint
Certain scents can make your mouth water, and others can actually suppress your appetite. One study published in the Journal of Neurological and Orthopaedic Medicine found that people who sniffed peppermint every two hours lost an average of 5 pounds a month! Banana, green apple, and vanilla had similar effects.
Eat This, Not That! tip: Consider burning a minty candle until you head to bed to fill the room with slimming smells. If you don't want to bother with blowing out candles before you turn down the covers, try adding a few drops of peppermint oil to your pillow.
SLEEP-SLIMMING TRICK #8
Let in the cold
A striking new study published in the journal Diabetes suggests that simply blasting the air conditioner or turning down the heat in winter may help us attack belly fat while we sleep. Colder temperatures subtly enhance the effectiveness of our stores of brown fat—fat keeps you warm by helping you burn through the fat stored in your belly. Participants spent a few weeks sleeping in bedrooms with varying temperatures: a neutral 75 degrees, a cool 66 degrees, and a balmy 81 degrees. After four weeks of sleeping at 66 degrees, the subjects had almost doubled their volumes of brown fat. (And yes, that means they lost belly fat.)
Eat This, Not That! tip: Keep it cool. And speaking of turbocharging your body's fat burn, learn how stubborn weight gain may not be your fault, and turn off your hunger hormones with these powerful 20 Foods That Shut Off Your Hunger Hormones Fast!
SLEEP-SLIMMING TRICK #9
Throw out the night light
Exposure to light at night doesn't just interrupt your chances of a great night's sleep, it may also result in weight gain according to a new study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology. Study subjects who slept in the darkest rooms were 21 percent less likely to be obese than those sleeping in the lightest rooms.
Eat This, Not That! tip: That leads us to our next sleep-slimming trick….
SLEEP-SLIMMING TRICK #10
Hide the iPad
Research suggests that the more electronics we bring into the bedroom, the fatter we get — especially among children. A study in the Pediatric Obesity journal found that kids who bask in the nighttime glow of a TV or computer don't get enough rest and suffer from poor lifestyle habits. Researchers found that students with access to one electronic device were 1.47 times as likely to be overweight as kids with no devices in the bedroom. That increased to 2.57 times for kids with three devices.
Eat This, Not That! tip: Leave your iPad in the living room. You spouse might thank you, too.
SLEEP-SLIMMING TRICK #11
And switch off Fallon, too
Did you know lean people watch less TV? A recent analysis of studies found that for every two hours spent watching TV, the risk of developing diabetes, developing heart disease, and early death increased by 20, 15 and 13 percent, respectively. Scientists are still figuring out exactly why sitting is so detrimental to health, but one obvious and partial explanation is that the less we move, the less fuel we require; the surplus blood sugar floods the bloodstream and contributes to diabetes and other weight-related risks.
Eat This, Not That! tip: Discover how just a few other easy tweaks can help you lose up to 4 inches from your waist—fast—with these 25 Best-Ever Nutrition Tips!
SLEEP-SLIMMING TRICK #12
Blackout with blackout shades
Light-blocking curtains make a huge difference when it comes to falling asleep. Outside light makes it harder for your mind to shut down, even if you think you're immune to such instinctive signals. Melatonin, the hormone involved in putting your body to sleep, is compromised when light is present.
Eat This, Not That! tip: "Darken your room so that going to bed, even early, feels natural," says Smiley.
SLEEP-SLIMMING TRICK #13
Take a hot shower
If you normally bathe in the A.M., listen up. "A hot shower is great for ensuring a good night's sleep because it can help relieve tension and relax sore muscles. Additionally, it can increase the level of oxytocin—a "love" hormone released by your brain—which can be very soothing," says Falamas. The heat from the shower also gives your body temperature a lift, resulting in a quick drop in temp when you get out and towel off, a dip that helps relax your entire system. A hot bath will also have the same effect.
Eat This, Not That! tip: A shower takes just minutes. But there are even quicker ways to lose weight, and we've collected them in this special story (that takes just seconds to read): 33 Lazy Ways to Lose Your Belly—Fast!
SLEEP-SLIMMING TRICK #14
Get the night-time blues
There's a reason why McDonald's, Burger King and Wendy's all have the same red-and-yellow theme colors. Those tones supposedly send us subliminal messages that help make us hungry. Does the same trick work at home? An experiment published in the interior design magazine Contract presented partygoers with three identical venues painted different colors: red, yellow and blue. Participants reported the red and yellow rooms to be equally appetizing (and ate the most in the yellow room), but found the food in the blue room only half as appealing.
Eat This, Not That! tip: A separate study also found a blue room reduces blood pressure and slows your heart rate!
SLEEP-SLIMMING TRICK #15
Don't work out late
Regular workouts have been found to help ease sleepless nights, but hitting the gym too late can mess with your body clock. Exercising close to bedtime—within about two hours—can energize your body so much that it may not be able to wind down when it's time to call it a night.
Eat This, Not That! tip: If you're not a morning person, try to exercise right after work or midday if your schedule allows. That way, you can head home, eat dinner and relax knowing you'll be able to fall fast asleep when the time comes. If you're stuck at the office really late, you're better off skipping your workout for the night and hitting the hay early. If your body gets the rest it needs you're more likely to stay on track with your healthy eating and workouts in the days that follow. And whether you work out or not, power up your metabolism with these essential 29 Best-Ever Proteins for Weight Loss!
SLEEP-SLIMMING TRICK #16
Instead, get your "Om" on
Striking some poses before bed can have a powerful influence on sleep quality because of yoga's focus on breathing and meditation. "Yoga offers a variety of benefits, from increased flexibility and strength to a calmer mind," says Mark Balfe-Taylor, director of yoga at TruFusion.
Eat This, Not That! tip: He recommends the Deaf Man's Pose (shown here). "It can calm the nervous system, release the shoulders and neck and, most importantly, allows you to focus inward, block out stress and relax," he says.
SLEEP-SLIMMING TRICK #17
Make dinner—then make whoopie
Wanna sleep better and lose more weight? Have more sex. A new study published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine shows that for every extra hour of sleep women got, their sexual desire increased accordingly. And a separate study showed that the more sex you get, the better you sleep, and the more weight you lose.
Eat This, Not That! tip: Women, click here for Best Foods For Your Sex Drive—Better Than Female Viagra! Men, click here for The 50 Best Foods for Maximum Performance in Bed!
SLEEP-SLIMMING TRICK #18
Splurge on a pillow
When it comes to a better night's sleep, some gadgets are total ripoffs (like those as-seen-on-TV anti-snoring contraptions), but investing in the right pillow is key. "Buying an orthopedic pillow keeps your neck aligned. You'll wake up in the morning with no neck pain," says Smiley.
Eat This, Not That! tip: You can find one at your local chiropractor's clinic, or most places that sell bedding.
SLEEP-SLIMMING TRICK #19
Skip the chocolate
Don't get us wrong; we love chocolate. In fact, any bar that contains at least 70% cacao is one of our favorite low-sugar snacks or desserts because of its high concentration of antioxidants and stress-busting abilities. Unfortunately, if eaten too late that chocolate could be the reason you can't fall asleep. Dark chocolate contains caffeine, which can prevent your body from shutting down when you want it to if you're sensitive to the compound.
Eat This, Not That! tip: Chocolate bars have varying amounts of caffeine, but an average two-ounce, 70 percent dark chocolate bar contains around 79 milligrams. For reference, an eight-ounce cup of coffee contains around 145 milligrams. For a different late-night indulgence, try these filling, guilt-free 50 Best Snacks for Weight Loss!
SLEEP-SLIMMING TRICK #20
Have just the right amount of wine
Wine is our favorite "healthy" alcoholic drink due to its resveratrol—a plant compound that has been linked to heart-healthy benefits. However, that evening glass of wine is also considered a high-sugar beverage, according to Smith, and drinking too much can hinder your ability to snooze. It may feel like that nightly glass of wine is relaxing you and helping you fall asleep faster, but it actually prevents your body from fully indulging in its REM (Rapid Eye Movement) cycle, which is where truly restful sleep and dreaming occurs.
Eat This, Not That! tip: Enjoy a glass earlier in the night—about two hours before bedtime—to avoid sleep disruption, and close the home bar after one or two glasses, tops.
Having trouble going to bed at the same time every night? Check out these 8 Expert Tricks to Fall Asleep Fast.