Is there really a connection between sleep deprivation and weight gain?

And we aren’t just talking about getting up at 12am for a sneaky midnight snack because we can’t sleep.  There is a much deeper connection between the two on a chemical level.

In actual fact, lack of sleep can cause many health-related issues of which weight gain is just one.

But a lack of sleep makes you more susceptible to factors related to weight gain.

sleep-deprivation

Metabolism

When sleep deprived, the body’s metabolism system doesn’t work right, so it is not burning calories as efficiently as it could. Research has shown the issue seems to come from a change in glucose tolerance or the body’s ability to turn food into glucose and get it to the cells where it can be used for energy. Being sleep deprived, glucose tolerance can diminish as much as 40%.  If calories are not being processed, they are stored as fat, leading to weight gain. In addition if you are tired and lack energy, how much harder is it to motivate yourself to exercise?

Food Choices

The other part is the bad food choices we make when sleep deprived. Studies have shown that sleep deprivation causes an increase in the hormone ghrelin, which controls our appetite and a decrease in leptin, which tells us when we are full.

Sleepily we grab a cup of coffee or two … or three, along with a donut for some quick energy. That sugar rush caused by the sugar in the donut and in your coffee, if you added some, soon wears off and before long you are back looking for more food.

The issue is you are not looking for carrots or even apple slices with peanut butter – something that would be good for you – no, you are back for another donut or something that will give you the sugar rush again, has a lot of calories, and absolutely no nutritional value. The long-term result of this eating behavior is weight gain, even to the point of obesity. Typically, those that are sleep-deprived eat about 300 calories per day more than when they are rested. In a week, that is a pound of weight gain just from not getting enough sleep. Fifty-two weeks, fifty-two pounds!

And it wouldn’t be as bad … but still not good, if you hit the gym sometime during the day to burn off as many of those calories as you could, but being sleep deprived, you are too tired to exercise, so the weight just keep piling on.

A typical adult needs between 7 to 9 hours of quality sleep per night to avoid sleep deprivation and the change in hormones. Between the combination of taking in more calories and the body’s ability to efficiently burn them altered (coupled with a lack of exercise due to tiredness) the end result is weight gain – and in some cases, a lot of it.

But all is not lost.  There are a few simple tricks that can help you get your sleep back on track

  • Shut down your computer, cell phone, and TV at least an hour before you hit the sack.
  • Save your bedroom for sleep and sex. Think relaxation and release, rather than work or entertainment.
  • Create a bedtime ritual. It’s not the time to tackle big issues. Instead, take a warm bath, meditate, or read.
  • Stick to a schedule, waking up and retiring at the same times every day, even on weekends.
  • Watch what and when you eat. Avoid eating heavy meals and alcohol close to bedtime, which may cause heartburn and make it hard to fall asleep. And steer clear of soda, tea, coffee, and chocolate after 2 p.m. Caffeine can stay in your system for 5 to 6 hours.
  • Turn out the lights. Darkness cues your body to release the natural sleep hormone melatonin, while light suppresses it.
  • If you are struggling with sleep, keep a diary, monitoring sleep times, exercise, food (what when and how much) – compare days to see if there are obvious patterns and links with sleep or lack of.