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How Sleep Affects Your Weight

Remember all those weight hormones? Well, some of them could be called sleep hormones as well—because some of those hormones work while we sleep, and don’t work effectively when we don’t get enough sleep.

Sleep deprivation and Chronic Disorders

Sleep deprivation—more simply, just not getting enough sleep—is correlated to a number of chronic disorders according to the CDC. These disorders include:

  • Pre-diabetes (insulin resistance) and diabetes
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Depression
  • Overweight and obesity

Research has indicated that chronic sleep deprivation causes changes in your body’s metabolism that can lead to increased weight. How? Partly, the answer lies in the cycles of hormones discussed in previous newsletters—the hormones that are at least partly responsible for weight gain associated with sleep deprivation are ghrelin and leptin.

One goes up—and the Other Goes Down

Several research studies have shown that the lack of sleep leads to decreased leptin and increased ghrelin. In addition, your cells begin to be resistant to insulin. AND—- more cortisol is released. All these hormonal changes (and potentially others)work to increase storage of fat and changes in the fat cells themselves…and weight gain.

Here’s a quick review of these hormones and how they relate to weight gain:

  • Ghrelin is known as the “hunger hormone”. When ghrelin is increased (as it is when you don’t sleep enough…and even 4 bad sleep-nights is enough….)you begin to feel hungry more often and at the worst times. You might wake up in the middle of the night and get yourself a snack, or you might eat more food and eat more often. In addition, many people report that their cravings for specific foods—especially sweet, sugary foods—increases after a few nights of poor sleep.
  • Leptin is sometimes called the “starvation hormone” because it decreases your appetite and signals the brain that you have eaten enough. When leptin is decreased (and again, it takes as few as 4 nights of poor sleep for leptin levels to decrease), the signal to the brain is “EAT!” In some studies, leptin levels began to decrease after a single night of poor or shortened sleep. Also, leptin appears to influence cravings for sweet foods at odd times—like in the middle of the night or just an hour or so after a full meal.
  • Insulin functions to “push” sugar into your cells where it is needed for energy. But insulin also affects the way fats are used and stored. As the cells become more insulin resistant, these fatty acids are stored in fat cells—often in the abdominal or belly area, and in the liver, where even more damage may be caused.
  • Cortisol is commonly referred to as a stress hormone—and losing sleep is very stressful for the body. So, the body reacts by releasing cortisol after just a few nights of poor sleep. High levels of cortisol are particularly associated with increased belly fat—and increased cravings.

Sleep on it!

For most people 7-9 hours of sleep seems to be sufficient. Everyone will have a “bad night” from time to time, but you should try to ensure that it is only one night. How? There are a number of ways to approach this—here are some tips:

  • Look into changing your mattress. Many experts recommend changes mattresses every 7-8 years. Make certain that your mattress is comfortable enough for you—adjustable mattresses can be a great solution for couples with different comfort needs. Also make sure your pillow is replaced every year or so.
  • Keep exercising! The exercise doesn’t have to be strenuous, and you should not exercise for about 2 hours before bedtime, but simply taking a walk can get you ready for a good night’s sleep
  • Stretching gently right before bedtime can be relaxing.
  • Get into a routine—keep the same bedtime, take a shower about an hour before you intend to sleep, then sit and read, listen to calming music or meditate before going to bed. Your routine should work for you—include whatever makes your feel most relaxed and ready to sleep.
  • Taking short naps during the day (10-30 minutes) can actually improve your night-time sleep.
  • Reserve your bed for sleep and sexual activity—don’t eat in bed, read in bed or watch TV in bed.
  • Make sure the bedroom is dark and cool—get blackout curtains if necessary. If city noise is high, try getting some CDs with “white noise” like the ocean, a waterfall or leaves rustling in the wind.
  • Eating healthy meals—and keeping healthy snacks available (but not TOO available…) can make a difference with sleep as well. As always, include lots of vegetables and fruits in your diet along with lean protein from fish, and free-range poultry. Include beans, legumes, nuts and seeds in your diet—those nuts and seeds could be your healthy snack, as well! Another good snack choice are raw vegetables—they contain lots of magnesium which may help you get a good night’s sleep as well. Limit caffeine and alcohol, but drink plenty of water. Include lots of fiber in your diet—and include yogurt with active cultures to help keep your digestive system healthy.

Finally—if you wake up early—go back to sleep! Talk yourself into it, if you have to—don’t worry about that report or that project—it will be done more efficiently anyway if you are well-rested!

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