With commentary by Rakesh Bhattacharjee, MD, a sleep expert at the University of Chicago and Jane Chiang, MD, pediatric endocrinologist and senior vice president for medical affairs at the American Diabetes Association
A few months ago there was an article making the rounds on the Internet with the claim that if you wanted to lose belly fat, you should sleep naked. The piece suggested that by lowering your body temperature during sleep, the body would release more growth hormone, which is crucial to burning fat.
We put the hormone-connection question to Rakesh Bhattacharjee, MD, a sleep expert at the University of Chicago. His response: It is true that as you get into a deep sleep, your body temperature drops, and growth hormone is released.
“Growth hormone has a vast array of metabolic functions,” says Bhattacharjee. “It burns fat and grows muscle.” That can give you a subtle edge in the weight-loss battle, and with trying to lose abdomen-hugging visceral fat, which is linked to type 2 diabetes, heart disease and stroke.
Sleeping in the buff, however, will not cause you to wake up one morning with abs that rival Jillian Michaels’. But following these 6 expert-approved tips can be very effective at helping to whittle your middle:
1. Don't cheat sleep.
Studies have shown that not getting enough sleep can trigger a number of hormonal changes that can contribute to weight gain. One hormone that’s released when you’re tired is ghrelin, which stimulates appetite and cravings for high fat foods. Poor sleep can also lead to a cascade of physiological effects that contributes to insulin resistance, which can lead to diabetes and metabolic disease, says Bhattacharjee. The National Sleep Foundation (NSF) recommends adults get between 7 and 9 hours of sleep per night.
2. Tweak the thermostat.
A hot bedroom certainly makes it more difficult to fall asleep, so keep the thermostat at a comfortable 65 degrees F, says NSF. Use lighter blankets and wear breathable fabrics, or ditch the pjs altogether.
3. Go for the vigorous workout.
Aerobic exercise at a moderate to high intensity is an effective way of reducing visceral fat if you’re overweight. Aim for 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity at least five days a week, recommends the American Diabetes Association. A good test to tell if you’re exercising vigorously: you can't say more than a few words without taking a breath. It’s also important to do resistance training during two of your workouts a week. The goal is to increase your muscle tissue, which burns fat a higher rate, even when you're not exercising.
4. Clean up your diet.
“There is no magic way to lose belly fat,” says Jane Chiang, MD, pediatric endocrinologist and senior vice president for medical affairs at the ADA. “It’s essentially the same advice we’d give people to lose weight—healthy nutrition and exercise,” she says. That means eating more of a Mediterranean style diet which includes whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and lean proteins.
5. Eat stress- (and gut-) busting foods.
“Stress hormones cause us to store more fat in the midsection,” says Erin Palinski-Wade, RD, CDE, author of Belly Fat Diet For Dummies. Studies show that some foods, including omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin C, can help combat stress hormones. “Try to have at least one good food source of omega 3 a day,” says Palinski-Wade. That could be a serving of fish, a few walnuts or a tablespoon of chia seeds. Before a stressful situation, eat an orange, clementine or other source of Vitamin C.
6. Get your inner Zen on.
When you’re stressed, cortisol levels rise, and that can increase your cravings for unhealthy foods that are high in sugar and carbohydrates. If you’re feeling stressed at work, go for a mind-clearing walk. The payoff will be much more positive than de-stressing with chocolate or chips. Practicing relaxation exercises or even deep breathing can help reduce stress hormones as well.