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Why Good Sleep Tops Exercise for Weight Loss

Most of us are quick to associate weight loss with exercise, and for good reason. It’s a healthy choice we make when we’re awake, just like eating right, stretching, or even meditating.

But what if not being awake was more responsible for weight loss, than any workout?

Dr. Brown opens the latest episode of Brain Over Belly with this bold proclamation: sleep is more important than exercise for losing weight and keeping it off. In fact, permanent weight loss is virtually impossible to achieve without good sleep.

Sleep vs. Exercise

Rick and Mona, who’s feeling great six months after her bariatric surgery, are eager to get to the bottom of his stunning pro-sleep claim. They express what most of us would; when we think of shedding pounds, we think of going for a jog or hitting the gym. So how and why is sleep – not moving at all – the superior weight loss tool?

You’ve maybe heard the name Copernicus before, the guy who proved the earth revolved around the sun? Huge scientific breakthrough, but want to know another? In our own little way, we revolve around it too.

Dr. Brown explains that we are hard-wired to follow light. That term circadian rhythm you’ve also likely heard? 100% truth, and most of us are not, well, in rhythm. It is in our DNA to respond to cues of light, and if we don’t, everything from regulation of appetite to stress and anxiety becomes compromised. Not to mention mood!

Rick, Mona, and Dr. Brown dive into their personal sleep habits and goals, touching on sleep apnea which Mona has endured her entire life. Dr. Brown explains the different types of it, and how common they are among his patients (a small hint – if you snore a lot, get checked out for it).

This prompts Rick to discuss what is easily a favorite part of the podcast – the emphasis on overall health, not exclusively weight loss. “Longevity and healthspan,” as Dr. Brown agreeingly puts it.

Sleep Hygiene

Hygiene is much more than your conditioner or toothpaste; it’s also your important bedtime habits, and they need to start well before you hit the hay!

There are numerous things we can all do to improve our sleep, and the scientific data is overwhelmingly positive for doing so. One memorable takeaway is that consistency is just as important as time of sleep. Going to bed at the same time is just as important as going to bed at the right time (as in, early). Our bodies love rhythm, and this is a prime example.

Getting back to light, Dr. Brown brings the brain science, explaining how the hypothalamus is essentially our master timekeeper for both light and weight management. This explains the well-documented connection behind sleep deprivation and appetite stimulation. If you’ve ever had the alarm go off for that 5:00 AM flight, and soon find yourself dying for a couple greasy breakfast sandwiches, you A) are definitely not alone and B) will appreciate this segment.

Screen Time

If you caught our last episode, it discussed impulsivity, framed around eating cookies and processed foods.

Screens are like digital cookies for us. We love them and quite impulsively use them…even though we know they’re not always good for us. And just like eating cookies before bed, screens before bed is a recipe for poor sleep. Why? Because they emit blue light which stimulates the part of the brain that induces wakefulness.

This isn’t just theory or a one-off experiment. Dr. Brown details his common experience with patients post-surgery who are eating right and even exercising, yet not seeing great results. He asks about sleep, and like clockwork finds they are going to bed well past midnight, often right after watching television, playing computer games, or using their phone. Coincidence?

This lays the groundwork for an awesome advice session from Dr. Brown and Mona. The science behind lowering your temperature for sleep is analyzed. Meditation is discussed as the best complimentary tool to bariatric surgery in how it aids the brain. And the power of sound captivates Rick, as he learns about white and pink noise benefitting sleep quality. Whether it’s ocean sounds courtesy of Alexa or 9.5 hours of pink noise, background sound is a great trick to feeling wonderful when waking up.

Skip the Sleep Aids

Many people turn to sleep aids without a worry – after all, they’re using something deemed “safe” to ultimately feel better, right? Wrong. It’s not that sleep aids are dangerous per se, but they act as a crutch. They may even get us to sleep quicker, but they interfere with REM and deep sleep. Additionally, it’s well established that daytime grogginess is a common side effect of frequent sleep aid use.

The sleep aid chat wraps with Dr. Brown sharing a story as hilarious as it is informative; let’s just say it involves Ambien, Wal-Mart, cheese and a lack of a shirt.

Brain Activity During Sleep

The closing topic is the underlying “why?”. Rick does an excellent job teeing up Dr. Brown to explain what’s actually occurring during sleep that makes it so darned important.

Every day for all of us, thousands of things become temporarily remembered. Opening a door, pouring a cup of coffee, scratching your thigh, on and on and on. The vast majority of these things are not truly important, and significant data shows that a primary purpose of sleep is a removal of such unnecessary memories. You can imagine the sort of “system overload” issues that would arise if we just held onto everything we thought and felt, right? This expunging of unneeded memories allows the brain to operate more efficiently, leaving capacity for health and weight management.

The second notable activity is called consolidation. Just like our bodies make new cells, the brain forms new circuits during sleep, and needs prolonged downtime to make them permanent.

Wrapping Up

Dr. Brown recaps sleep importance and his advice that goes with it. Mona brings a helpful human touch to the show’s closing, explaining how useful guidelines are. Roadmaps like the ones Dr. Brown lays out are instrumental in achieving progress – physical and mental. No matter where you get your benchmarks from, they’ll help. Almost as much as a good night’s sleep!

The Brain Over Belly podcast is available everywhere you listen to podcasts. Subscribe at Listen Boise now.

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