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  • Writer's pictureKathy Ozakovic

Sleep More To Lose Weight

Have you ever thought about where the fat goes from the weight we lose? We breathe it out as Carbon Dioxide while we sleep! That's right, weight loss and body re-compositioning happens while we sleep. Not during the day, not during that workout, not as we eat healthy, not as we walk around burning calories. We lose weight and our body changes shape as we rest and recover. Sure all the other stuff is still necessary, however without good quality sleep in the right amounts we are not likely to see the changes we want. Keep reading to learn more about why sleep became my priority and what food choices can help you sleep more to lose weight (or build muscle!).

We often associate sleep with the head and our mental health. When we can't fall asleep quickly, we count sheep, toss and turn, think about our endless to do list, work obligations, family responsibilities, who's birthday is it tomorrow, what did we forget... It goes on and on. We just can't seem to quiet the mind.


However, sleep could be more of a gut health thing than you know because of the gut-brain axis. A very real nerve connecting the gut to the brain. About 80% of information generated in our gut (neurotransmitters and hormones) travels up the vagus nerve to the brain and about 20% from the brain to the gut!


In fact, 90% of Serotonin (happy chemical) is produced in the gut and Serotonin is a precursor to Melatonin (sleep chemical)! The gut actually contains 400x more melatonin than the pineal gland. Low levels of serotonin are associated with insomnia. So who or what is responsible for producing these chemicals in our gut that travel to our brain impacting our sleep? Our gut bugs. The gut microbiome helps regulate sleep and vice versa, sleep helps regulate the microbiome. Fix your gut to fix your sleep.


Why am I so concerned about my sleep?

This year I learnt that sleep is more important than I ever thought. Sleep is like a dishwasher: when we sleep our brain goes over our day again without the emotional gunk such as adrenaline and cortisol. This is why a good sleep helps regulate emotions. We wake up refreshed with a clean sleight! Otherwise, a poor night sleep means you’re carrying around yesterday’s gunk! Also, we lose weight and change body composition when we sleep. We breathe out fat as carbon dioxide. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work whilst we are awake. So, don't go around breathing out heavily.


Heart Disease is the leading cause of death in Australia and kills one person every 18min. That's 79 people/day, imagine all the lives being affected. The risk factors for Heart Disease are listed on Australia's Heart Association website as High Blood Pressure (1/3 Aus have high BP), High Cholesterol (45% of Aus adults have high cholesterol), Overweight (67% Aus is overweight), Smoking (3mil Aus smoke), Physical Inactivity (84% of adults are not meeting the recommended national physical activity guidelines), Alcohol and Diet.


One really big risk that is not listed is sleep depravation. Poor sleep doubles the risk of Heart Disease. The fastest growing chronic disease in Australia is Type 2 Diabetes and it is growing in popularity as do overweight/obesity and sleep apnoea. In fact, as little as 1 night of sleep deprivation makes us as insulin sensitive as someone with T2DM. It's a case of what came first the chicken or the egg? Are we sleeping bad and waking up with disease or are our diseases causing lack of sleep and leading to more disease. Either way the answer is in better quality sleep.


Another important role of sleep is in regulating out immune system. The ability of our immune system to recall bacteria and viruses is influenced by sleep. When we fight off invaders our immune system upgrades it's blueprint so that we can recognise the invader next time and have the right defense ready. However, if we don't get enough sleep the upgrade doesn't happen and we don't hire new defenders.


So, if we fix our gut we are on our way to fixing our sleep. What exactly helps us create a sleep friendly gut microbiome? The gut microbiome is influenced by many things including our environmental exposure to pollution, lack of exposure to nature, stress, activity, meditation, water, medications and ofcourse nutrition. The easiest for us to control is nutrition. There are specific nutrients that act as precursors to sleep hormones, neurotransmitters and processes. There are also some chemicals that are detrimental to sleep processes. Having some awareness can help us shift our behaviours for the better.



Good Sleep Nutrients

Tryptophan – One of the 9 essential amino acids, key building block of Serotonin

Sources: Turkey, chicken, lobster, eggs, cheese, tofu, pumpkin seeds, peanuts, spinach, spirulina


Glycine – Amino acid, improves deep sleep time and decreases wakefulness

Sources: beef, chicken, turkey, peanuts, quinoa, spirulina, salmon, brazil nuts


Vitamin C – Antioxidant, heat sensitive

Sources: berries, capsicums, kiwi, papaya, broccoli


Vitamin D – affects genes involved in the circadian rhythm, reduces daytime sleepiness

Sources: egg yolks, sardines, oysters, shrimp, mushrooms, safe sun exposure (light therapy)

Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) – cofactor in the tryptophan serotonin pathway, relaxes the Nervous System

Sources: yoghurt, salmon, avocado, tuna, eggs, chickpeas, sweet potato


Potassium – supports sleep cycles and reduces waking

Sources: Avocado, green leafy veg, salmon, sweet potato, black beans, white beans)


Calcium – deficiencies cause REM and deep sleep interruptions

Sources: yoghurt, sesame seeds, kale, spinach, chia, almonds, beans, lentils, collard greens


Magnesium – involved in over 600 reaction, reduces Sympathetic Nervous System (fight or flight) and turns on Parasympathetic Nervous System (rest and digest), induces anti-anxiety effects, reduced cortisol, melatonin function

Sources: pumpkin seeds, almonds, avocadoes, leafy greens, tofu, black beans, spirulina


Omega 3s – deeper, more restful sleep, DHA reduces symptoms of sleep apnea

Sources: chia seeds, flax seeds, hemp seeds, walnuts, salmon


Sleep supportive mushrooms: Reishi and Ashwagandha, Camomile, Valerian Root tea


That might seem a bit overwhelming. Pick out a few foods you don't usually eat that keep reoccurring on the above lists! That's a great start. I also want to highlight these foods are part of the Mediterranean Dietary pattern of eating. If you focus on my usual gut health principles you'll likely be meeting all your requirements and then it's about being that 1% better each day with those foods that you don't tend to have which can do you so much good!


"Eat (whole)food, not too much, mostly plants" - Michael Pollan

Looking for more support? A good sleep supplement will have any of the following: Magnesium, Passion flower, California poppy, Jamaica dogwood, Zizyphus, Lutein, Zeaxanthin, Ashwagandha, Lavender



Bad Sleep Nutrients

Caffeine: Coffee/ Pre-workouts/ Fat Burners/ Green Tea/ Black Tea.


Firstly, I want to say Coffee has many health benefits and you can read about that in my other blog post. However, when caffeine starts interfering with sleep and heightening our emotions maybe (just maybe) it's time to tapper down. How much coffee one can drink without interfering sleep patterns depends on whether you are a fast or slow metaboliser of caffeine. Caffeine has a half life of anywhere between 5 to 8 hours. That means that after 8 hours you will have HALF the amount of caffeine still in your system. If you had a small coffee with 1 shot of coffee at 7am (60mg), after 8 hours at 3pm you still have 30mg caffeine in your system and if you had another small coffee at 3pm you are bumping up the caffeine content in your blood by 60mg to 90mg!


Research found that coffee drinkers who had a coffee at 2pm lost 1 hour of deep sleep compared to those who only had a morning coffee. That 1 hour of deep sleep could be the difference between where you are and where you want to be in terms of your weight loss goals, your strength goals, your muscle building goals, your sports performance or work performance goals.


We are all unique in how specific carbs affect us. That said, added sugars steals sleep, not complex carbs. In fact, having complex carbohydrates from potatoes (any colour), basmati rice/ brown rice, beans, legumes and lentils can help us sleep better! These carbohydrates are slow to enter the blood stream and help the body 'rest and digest'. Whereas simple sugars such as chocolates, candy, white processed carbohydrates, high glyceamic index fruits, oats which are all each to digest will give us a nice buzz of energy and keep us awake followed by a sugar crash sending us asleep and making us feel 'bleh' in the morning.


Alcohol also steals sleep and can cause nightmares.


That all being said, I want to highlight that small actions over time is what will create sustainable change. So, what will have the most impact for you now? Maybe it's as simple as drinking 2 extra glasses of water throughout the day. When will you drink them and how will you remember? Will you set yourself a reminder? Knowledge is only as powerful as the actions we take to implement it.


Remember, life happens and sometimes we have extra work we stay up for. Be kind to yourself and remember you will be as insulin sensitive as someone with type 2 diabetes tomorrow. All the more reason to get a good night sleep the next day.


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Did you find this blog helpful and informative? Tag & Share with your friends who would love it too! Sign up for my Free NuFit Wellness Newsletter to stay in the loop. Attend my Wellness Workshops. Promoting consciousness in food choices helping people heal. Dietitian & Wellness Coach, Health Presenter, Gut Health Specialist - Kathy Ozakovic.

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KEYWORDS: Sleep, Weight Loss, Food, Nutrition, Health, Wellness, Tips, Vitamins, Minerals, Strategies, Vagus Nerve, Gut Brain Axis

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