After a long day of working hard and making healthy choices, we tend to think of our evenings as a time to let loose and reward ourselves. But if you're trying to lose weight, it's crucial to develop habits that will set you up for success.
We're not saying you have to cancel all fun. In fact, some of these habits may make your evenings more purposeful while helping to trim your waistline. Read on for simple nighttime habits you can adopt to maximize your chances of meeting your weight-loss goals.
1. Get Good Sleep
Society tends to glamorize getting as little sleep as possible, but staying up late could be the culprit behind your weight gain or plateau. Julie Upton, MS, RD, a registered dietitian and co-founder of Appetite for Health tells LIVESTRONG.COM that insufficient sleep messes with the hormones responsible for stress, your metabolic rate, hunger and satiety.
"Without enough shut-eye, the levels of the hunger-hormone ghrelin rise and the levels of leptin, the hormone that helps us feel full, falls," she says. "Hormonal disruptions are thought to be one of the main reasons why burning the candle at both ends is so bad for your waistline."
Plus, it's well known that lack of sleep is linked to obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure. That means, if you want to lose weight (and stay healthy), good sleep should definitely be a priority.
2. Minimize Screen Time
It's time to reevaluate your Netflix obsession. Minimizing screen time is essential to getting a good night's sleep, according to a study from the Lighting Research Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Researchers found that two hours of exposure to a screen at night reduced melatonin levels by 23 percent.
Why does that matter? Melatonin is the hormone responsible for alerting your body when it's time to hit the hay, and the suppression of melatonin can cause sleep disruptions, increasing your risk of obesity and diabetes.
In other words, scrolling on Instagram at night could be messing with your body clock and chipping away at precious hours during which you could (and should) be sleeping. Instead, try reading, journaling or stretching for one to two hours before bedtime to maximize your sleep and weight-loss success.
3. Wind Down With Yoga
If you have a hard time clearing your mind at the end of a long day, consider taking up yoga. One 2009 study found that doing yoga improved sleep quality, depression state and self-perceived health status in older adults.
And, another study found that practicing yoga led to weight loss among the test subjects. That said, carving time out before bed to get some OMs could help make you happier, leaner and sleepier.
Read more: 10 Yoga Poses for a Better Night's Sleep
4. Eat Dinner Earlier
Eating an early dinner may not sound like the sexiest way to spend your evening, but according to a recent study, having a smaller dinner earlier in the day is an effective way to avoid weight-gain.
According to the study authors, insulin is secreted most efficiently in the morning. What does that mean for your waistline? Insulin is a hormone that prompts your body's muscle and fat cells to absorb blood sugar, which is then either converted into energy or stored as fat.
Because insulin secretion is less efficient in the evening, eating larger portions of carbs and sugars later in the day could result in greater fat gain. Therefor, the earlier you stop eating, the better.
5. Have High Protein Snacks
If you are going to snack at night, go for a bite that's packed with protein. One study found that eating snacks under 150 calories didn't lead to weight gain and was actually beneficial for muscle protein synthesis (the process during which your muscles grow and recover) and cardiometabolic health.
What's more, "there is some evidence to suggest that eating a protein snack before bed may aid sleep," registered dietitian Upton says. "I would suggest something like a protein shake made with casein (which is released slowly) or have one or two hard-boiled eggs for the 12 grams of high-quality protein present in two large eggs."
Read more: 10 High-Protein Snacks You Can Eat on the Go
6. Stimulate Your Mind
We've all been there: You're re-watching "The Office" (again) and feeling a little bored, so you decide you want a snack and, regrettably, end up crushing an entire bag of chips.
Research shows that boredom is positively associated with greater calorie intake, and that it increases your desire to eat unhealthy snacks. So, the best way to keep boredom eating at bay is to keep your mind active.
In other words, turn off Netflix and do other, more stimulating activities like reading a book, journaling, taking a bath while listening to a podcast or exercising.
Read more: 10 Ways Journaling Will Transform Your Life
7. Avoid Drinking Alcohol
Cutting back on your precious vino may help with sleep and keep munchies at bay. "Not only does alcohol disrupt important REM sleep, it stimulates your appetite while reducing your inhibitions," Upton explains.
"So you'll be more likely to snack more, on higher calorie junk foods, when you drink alcohol." If you're someone who likes to enjoy a 21+ beverage every night of the week, try reserving a few nights for some gut-healthy kombucha or caffeine-free tea instead.
8. Keep It Cold
There's nothing cozier than snuggling up to layers of soft, comfy blankets, but research suggests that keeping things a little colder at night could boost weight loss.
A 2014 study found that regular exposure to mild cold promoted weight loss in test subjects. Researchers from Maastricht University Medical Center in The Netherlands studied two groups.
The first group experienced a decrease in body fat after spending two hours a day at 62.6 degrees F for six weeks. The second group spent six hours a day in lower temperatures for 10 days and saw an increase in brown fat.
That may sound like a bad thing, but brown fat actually burns energy (aka calories) to produce heat, meaning that having more brown fat can actually aid with weight loss. So, dial your thermostat down a few degrees for an easy way to potentially lose weight.
What are some of your evening habits? Are you planning to add any of these to your routine? Making a change does not have to be extreme. These small tweaks will ensure that your hard work is not in vain.