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Nutritionist Manuel Villacorta on the Sleep-Weight Connection

By L.K. Regan

Last month, we introduced you to our friend Manuel Villacorta's new website, EatingFree. Manuel is committed to weight management through good living. But many of us may not be aware of the ways that our daily habits are compromising our living better—not to mention our weight loss goals. That's why Manuel created the FreeQ, a test to identify potential improvement areas. In this and subsequent pieces, Manuel is going to break the FreeQ down into its component parts, and address these improvement areas one by one. First up: sleep.

According to a study last month in the Annals of Internal Medicine, losses in sleep compromise weight-loss efforts by reducing the amount of fat lost, and increasing the amount of ghrelin (a hormone that causes hunger and decreases energy expenditure). As one author of the study told the press, "If your goal is to lose fat, skipping sleep is like poking sticks in your bicycle wheels." In fact, in this study, loss of sleep reduced fat loss by 55%. Ouch.

For Manuel, sleep is key to weight loss and good health. "Studies have shown that those who sleep less than 5 hours per night have a 73% chance of becoming obese and those who sleep 6 hours per night have 27% more likelihood of becoming obese," he says. "Those who sleep least, weigh the most!" But, he acknowledges, just hitting the sack every night for eight hours when you're used to being a night-owl is not very plausible. So, he says, "Take baby steps." Here are a few of Manuel's sleep tips:

  1. Set a manageable goal. "If you are used to sleeping five hours a night, don't try to force yourself to get to eight hours, seven days per week, right away," Manuel says. Instead, start by trying to increase the amount you sleep by just one hour a night. If you sleep five hours now, simply try to get to six.

  2. Schedule a sleep night. "Pick a day to commit to shutting down everything by 9:00 pm," Manuel suggests. "That means phone, laptop, TV—all the things that are keeping you stimulated late at night." Even if you don't get to sleep at nine, shutting things down and learning to reduce your nighttime stimulation will help get you closer to sleep, sooner.

  3. Find a rhythm. Many people run ragged during the week, thinking they will catch up on sleep on the weekend. But sleep rhythms benefit from regularity—your body doesn't really know that it's the weekend and time to "catch up", and the weekend habits then bring you into the week dragging. Instead, Manuel says, "Try to establish a regular schedule for weekdays and weekends alike." That shouldn't take all the fun out of your weekends—instead, it should help you to get to bed a little earlier during the week.

  4. Set yourself a challenge. Can you commit to better sleep for two nights per week? If so, Manuel's site will send you help and email reminders. The key to success is support—take advantage of lifelines to help you meet your goals.
For more tips on getting better sleep, check out Manuel's sleep page at Eating Free, and set your own sleep goal. And keep your eyes peeled as later this month we'll introduce a free trial of EatingFree, just in time for the holidays!