How are those New Year’s Resolutions Going? Lost any weight yet??!!



Two questions for you that really do not sound as though they relate to each other – but do they?


  1. How often do you lie in bed, tossing and turning as you try to get to sleep? You may be worried about something or not have done very much to tire yourself during the day or you may be in discomfort or have a headache or just don’t feel well. There are lots of possible reasons and does it really matter anyway? Do you really need 7 hours sleep per night?


  1. What was your ‘New Year’s Resolution’? Apparently 48% of the people who made New Year Resolutions in 2019 wanted to lose weight according to a survey by YouGov and 54% wanted to eat a healthier diet.


The connection between these two issues was made by Marie-Pierre St-Onge, who is a nutrition scientist and the director of the Sleep Centre of Excellence at Columbia University.


She investigated for many years whether too little sleep may impact on obesity. Her study showed that if we had four hours less sleep than usual for four nights, we ate more. That increase in eating was in the region of 300 calories every day. If you do this too often, you can imagine how quickly you are going to gain weight – and certainly you are less likely to lose any!


Why should this be the case?


Reduced sleep causes hormone imbalance in leptin and ghrelin hormones that regulate our appetite so that we experience increased feelings of hunger.

Lack of sleep activates the reward centre of our brains so much that our usual ability to refuse eating too much food that is less than healthy is inhibited because we are encouraged to eat more unhealthy ‘comfort’ food. It is that unhealthy food that tends to make us feel emotionally more rewarded by activating the reward pathway.

The reward pathway also tells us to repeat what we just did in order to get the reward and also encourages us to eat larger portions of all foods.

The reward centre is in the frontal lobe


Animals use this reinforcement of activity as being good for their survival but they don’t have access to the fatty and highly calorific  comfort food that we do. We as human beings keep reinforcing the perception that this habit is good for us, even though, with the amount of unhealthy but emotionally satisfying food we have so easily available, these habits quickly become less good for our health and hence we become obese more easily than animals and it is a habit that is actually less good for our survival as a result.




The trouble is that bad sleep and poor diet can both become a habit and a vicious cycle: Lack of sleep leads to poor dietary choices, which in turn causes low quality sleep. The reward system is where we process emotions and where we decide whether we want to repeat an activity or not. Thus activities that we enjoy easily become habits if we keep doing them and they give us pleasure even though they are really not helpful to us but you can now see why such bad habits do become habits more than eating healthy food.


Also lack of sleep reduces our ability to process insulin. Insulin is required to convert sugar, starches and other food into energy. In sleep deprivation tests, insulin sensitivity dropped by more than 30%. We need insulin to respond properly because if it does not, our body does not process fats from the bloodstream and we end up storing them as fat.


Right in the middle of the reward centre there is an area which assesses whether we should act on the stimulus received or not.

You can imagine those assessments that told us we were doing good by repeating an action, could lead to addictive behaviour in human beings who are exposed to fast food, sugary food, gambling apps, drugs that give us pleasure and so on.

It is said that three quarters of British people do not get enough sleep with 20% saying that they feel tired throughout the day. Between 50 and 70 million Americans have chronic sleep disorders.

Therefore if there is a link between obesity and insufficient sleep, it is easy to see how difficult it might be to remedy weight gain.

How CAN we break these habits?

If we DO make healthy choices throughout the day it can have a positive influence on the amount of sleep we do get and therefore we will want less of those less healthy foods.

Studies over the past seven years have shown that eating more fibre and less saturated fat and sugar during the day results in deeper, more satisfying sleep at night. It is just a question of realising how easily our brains mislead us and we just need to be strong with our intake for a few days in order to replace the bad habits with good.

It may be particularly helpful to eat a Mediterranean-type diet rich in fruits and vegetables, legumes, nuts, whole grains and olive oil, and low in red and processed meat and whole-fat dairy as tests show that those who followed this diet were 1.4 times more likely to have good night’s sleep and 35 percent less likely to have insomnia.

Why? It’s partly because protein-rich foods such as nuts and seeds, fish, poultry and eggs contain tryptophan, an amino acid from which the sleep-regulating hormone melatonin is produced in the brain. Other foods — including tomatoes, pineapple, tart cherries, bananas, apples, vegetable oils, nuts and animal products — contain melatonin itself. In plants, melatonin serves as an antioxidant to prevent damage, while in animals it serves to regulate their sleep (much as it does in humans). Eating such melatonin-rich foods may also boost your own melatonin levels, although research on this is sparse.

Products Containing Magnesium. Healthy Food Concept.

Research suggests that the effects of diet on sleep can be as powerful, or maybe more powerful, than melatonin supplementation through pills. Studies show that melatonin supplements on average reduce the time to fall asleep by four minutes. In one of the studies, eating a healthy diet reduced time to fall asleep by about twelve minutes and the overall sleep quality was better.


Being overweight means that we are more likely to report insomnia or sleeping issues and we are more likely to sleep during the day.


Obesity is thought to change our sleep-wake cycles so our sleep quality deteriorates.


If by the middle of January, you are already struggling to keep up that healthy diet you said you would stick to this year and you regularly don’t sleep well – that could be why – not just lack of willpower!


So where DO you start? In my opinion, you are better off trying to fix your sleep patterns before you battle with reducing your food intake. If you don’t fix the cause, you will just keep failing and get so frustrated you will give up – again!




  1. Make sure you have a good mattress.
  2. Exercise – just a 20 minute walk – open your front door and walk – that’s all you need to do!
  3. Don’t eat within an hour of going to bed as this can result in poor sleep patterns.
  4. If you are hungry – eat an egg on toast, or some nuts or have something on hand that you enjoy that is better for you than the highly calorific food you are used to turning to.
  5. When you are driven to eat some biscuits or cake or something that is highly calorific but not highly nutritious, ask yourself if you really MUST eat it or is it just your brain playing tricks on you and telling you that you want to eat it. Tell yourself that you are refusing to eat it because you want to rather than someone is making you not eat it. That way you feel that you are the one in control and it is not a diet that you have to endure.
  6. Don’t get annoyed if you fail on occasions but remember that feeling of irritation that you did fail and next time you are tempted, try to think how much better you will feel if you DO take control.
  7. If you can’t sleep, just try simple meditation – clearing your mind of thoughts and every time a though comes into your head, mentally ‘bat it’ away.
  8. Try all of these things for a month and at the end, take stock of your weight and how you feel and you will be encouraged to keep trying and soon those bad habits will have been replaced by more and more good ones … all is not lost!