Sleep Matters Just as Much as Exercise for Improving Body Composition

your mom might have been onto something when she said chew your food slowly

By Michael Ormsbee, PhDFlorida State University
Edited by Kate Findley and proofread by Angela Shoemaker, Wondrium Daily

Although movement plays an important role in weight loss, getting adequate sleep is just as important. Professor Ormsbee explains.

Man sleeping in bed
Photo By Andrey_Popov / Shutterstock

Think before You Chew

Before discussing the link between sleep and body composition, here’s another surprising method for preventing weight gain. It has to do with how you chew your food.

In the early 1900s, influential food and health faddist Horace Fletcher advised people to chew their food thoroughly to avoid gaining weight. Research has shown that when you increase the amount of times you chew your food, you eat less food and experience a higher thermic effect of food, or diet induced thermogenesis. This means that you increase energy expenditure for digestion, absorption, and storage of that food.

Although this technique may seem to have a small impact, think about how fast you can eat your food when you’re hungry or in a rush. Odds are you aren’t paying attention and taking the time to chew your food very well. 

This method probably won’t change your body overnight, but it is something to consider as you eat each meal. When you eat slowly and chew more, you might just increase the thermic effect of that meal and decrease the total number of calories you eat, too. 

Sleep and Body Composition

One of the most effective methods for altering body composition, though, involves sleep. Sleep, or lack of sleep, is more crucial to weight loss and weight gain than people realize. 

A 2013 Gallup poll found that 40% of adults are getting less than seven hours of sleep per night, which is below the lowest recommended amount. The national average is only 6.8 hours of sleep per night. 

Additionally, it is estimated that 50 to 70 million Americans have some form of sleep or wakefulness disorder, making it difficult to get a solid eight hours of sleep. Mostly likely, this continuous sleep debt is hurting our health. Sleep can affect our metabolic control, insulin sensitivity, food cravings, muscle recovery, body composition, hormone profile, performance, and more.

Not only has sleep debt been shown to increase the risk of several chronic diseases, but it also is associated with metabolic issues as well. A 2010 study found that adults who got less than eight hours of sleep per night were hungrier for high-carbohydrate foods, putting them at risk for glucose and insulin problems. 

This is thought to be due to our brain craving its main energy source—glucose—when it is in sleep deprivation mode. Another study found that longer sleep duration was associated with lower body mass index (BMI) and better dietary behaviors. 

Although more research is needed, it also appears that extending or improving your quality of sleep will improve your performance. Additionally, sleep is a time for your body to heal and recover, allowing your muscles and just about every cell to repair and regenerate.

Without proper sleep and recovery, it is harder to make the body composition changes you may be looking for. Simply put, lack of sleep will cause more fatigue, making your next exercise session more difficult. Eventually fat loss and muscle gain will suffer. 

Getting More Sleep

How can you stop the cycle and get more sleep each night? First, keep a regular sleep schedule by going to bed and waking up at the same times—even on the weekends. This helps your body to develop a consistent sleep-wake cycle, making it easier for you to fall asleep at night and feel more rested in the morning. 

Second, manage your stress by doing something relaxing before crawling into bed each night. This does not include spending time on your laptop, iPad, or phone before you go to bed or while lying in bed. 

Screen time gets your brain revved up and makes it harder for the body to relax and shut down. Turning off your electronics at least 30 minutes before you want to sleep is a good idea. 

Time spent tossing and turning, thinking about everything that needs to get done, can prevent you from getting adequate sleep. When you’re restless, write down a list of things on your mind or wind down by reading a book.

Lastly, take note of what you are eating and drinking in the hours before you doze off. Several studies have found that supplementation with bioactive peptides naturally found in milk were linked to more restful sleep patterns and relaxation. 

For example, in one study, 60 women with sleep difficulties had a 65% improvement in their symptoms when consuming the bioactive peptides from milk proteins before bed. Thus, you can drink a small cup of milk before going to bed. 

Professor Ormsbee also recommends avoiding certain foods and drinks before bed such as caffeine, nicotine, and spicy foods. Caffeine and nicotine can act as stimulants, making it hard to doze off, and spicy foods or a large meal may cause uncomfortable heartburn.

Overall, sufficient sleep is essential for health, and sleep deprivation can seriously affect multiple aspects of health, especially body composition.

Dr. Ormsbee is an Associate Professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food, and Exercise Sciences and Interim Director of the Institute of Sports Sciences and Medicine in the College of Human Sciences at Florida State University.

Michael Ormsbee is an Associate Professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food, and Exercise Sciences and Interim Director of the Institute of Sports Sciences and Medicine in the College of Human Sciences at Florida State University. He received his MS in Exercise Physiology from South Dakota State University and his PhD in Bioenergetics from East Carolina University.

This article was edited by Kate Findley, Writer for Wondrium Daily, and proofread by Angela Shoemaker, Proofreader and Copy Editor for Wondrium Daily.