How Sleep Deprivation May Lead to Weight Gain

It seems to be somewhat of a cultural phenomenon –  work too hard, stress too much, and bite off more than we can chew. All of these things can affect the amount of sleep we get at night. Sleep deprivation can have a very negative impact on your physical and mental health both in the short-term as well as over time. Many people do not realize that sleep deprivation can also significantly affect your ability to maintain a healthy weight. Most people know that a healthy diet, plenty of water, and regular exercise are key components to losing or maintaining a healthy weight. However, all that hard work will be useless if you aren’t getting enough sleep. Individuals who regularly get less sleep than their body needs have a harder time losing weight and are more likely to gain weight over time.

Living a healthy lifestyle becomes even more challenging when your energy levels are low due to poor quality sleep or inadequate quantity of sleep.

Restless nights and lack of sleep can impact every aspect of your life. Healthy daily routines become harder to keep up, healthy eating habits become difficult to follow, and exercise seems like an exhausting prospect.

Research done by Kenneth Wright, director of Sleep and Chronobiology Laboratory at the University of Colorado in Boulder, suggests that “when people are sleepy, they make poor food choices and are more likely to eat more than they need.” His research also shows that study participants who didn’t get enough sleep for five days consumed more carbohydrates, which led to a weight gain of nearly two pounds within that time frame.

Eve Van Cauter, director of The Sleep, Metabolism, and Health Center at the University of Chicago also conducted studies demonstrating that “chronic partial sleep loss is a risk factor for obesity and type 2 diabetes.”

What is the scientific connection between sleep and weight gain?

Inadequate sleep can cause the body to crave unnecessary food. More specifically, the endocannabinoid levels in the blood, which control the physiological process of appetite, are amplified, which leads to physical (not just psychological) late night cravings, snacking, and over-eating. The same physiological process that is triggered by using marijuana.

Your body also produces higher levels of “the stress hormone,” cortisol, when you skip out on sleep. Cortisol leads to higher insulin levels, which makes your blood sugar drop and causes you to crave fatty or sugar-filled foods. This can turn overeating into a habit and is also a key contributor to gaining excess belly fat.

How do you know if you are getting enough sleep?

Sleep needs vary, but most people know just how much sleep they need to feel good and work at peak functionality throughout the day. In general, the average adult needs seven to nine hours per night and this number is relatively stable across the life span though the quality of sleep gradually declines with age. Your body will tell you if you are getting the sleep it needs to function on a daily basis, so pay attention to the signals. Consistent lack of energy, weight gain, irritability, and a reduced attention span are solid evidence that you may not be getting the sleep you need.

So what can you do about sleep deprivation?

There are many things you can do to get the sleep your body needs. But first, look at how much sleep you get versus how well you sleep – quantity vs. quality. For example, some people can only sleep for short stretches of time – such as new mothers caring for an infant – and some will technically get a full eight hours, but it is far from restful. Are you getting enough sleep and is the sleep good quality, do you wake up feeling rested?

Where to start:

If you are following these tips, clocking a full eight hours of sleep, and yet still feel restless and sleepy the next day, it may be time to see a sleep specialist. You may have an underlying sleep problem that a sleep doctor can identify by monitoring your sleep and conducting a thorough assessment.

Understanding the impact that sleep has on each aspect of your health (especially your weight), brain function, and overall happiness is the first step in developing healthy sleep habits. Make sleep a priority in life and you’ll feel better, look better, and enjoy a healthier lifestyle.

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