Sleep and Weight: 8 Things You Need to Know

Diet and exercise, coupled with solid sleeping habits are the strongest catalysts in losing weight.  For improved sleep, the National Sleep Foundation published a poll in March 2013; it revealed that some activity was a concrete step that improved the ability to sleep.  Sleep can make all the difference.  Here are eight things you need to know about the relationship between chronic sleep deprivation and weight gain:

  1. A person who gets less than the recommended seven to eight hours of sleep per night experiences less REM sleep, the stage of sleep in which activity of the muscle is decreased and activity of the brain is increased. This is the time when a person dreams. Studies have shown that decreased REM sleep affects the neuroendocrine system—or put more simply, the nervous and endocrine systems functioning together—by increasing food consumption and, therefore, weight gain.
  2. Sleeplessness imbalances the hormones that regulate appetite and weight: Leptin is a protein hormone secreted mostly by fat cells, and it plays a key role in regulating the body’s appetite and metabolism; Ghrelin is a stomach-secreted peptide that stimulates hunger. Research has shown that being chronically sleep deprived can cause Leptin to decrease, thereby suppressing appetite, and Ghrelin to increase, meaning a person is frequently hungry. A 2009 groundbreaking study by UCLA researchers found that Ghrelin levels may decrease at night while spiking during the day, when people are most prone to eating.
  3. Another hormone, Cortisol, a natural-steroid hormone secreted by the adrenal glands, is disturbed when the body does not receive adequate sleep. Cortisol is known as the “stress hormone” because the body releases it in reaction to stress, whether psychological, physical, environmental or any other type of stresses. Chronic sleep deprivation leads to increased levels of cortisol, which often causes people to be hungry despite their level of food intake—meaning they could have eaten a big meal but still want to eat, particularly foods high in carbohydrates and fats. Consistently high levels of cortisol also can cause an accumulation of hard-to-loose fat, specifically in the abdominal area.
  4. Sleep loss also makes it difficult for bodies to metabolize carbohydrates, which can cause the body to store more fat. Additionally, insomnia leads to a higher production of blood sugar, which can cause insulin resistance—meaning the body struggles to rid the body of glucose, a sugar derived from carbohydrate digestion. Insulin resistance puts a person at higher risk for conditions such as cardiovascular disease, type II diabetes and obesity.
  5. Chronic sleep deprivation robs the body of restorative deep sleep, which, in turn, decreases levels of HGH, a peptide hormone that stimulates growth and cell reproduction. Reduced growth-hormone levels impair the body’s ability to grow muscles and get rid of fat.
  6. An immediate effect of prolonged sleeplessness is fatigue and an overall lack of energy. People who are tired are more likely to be sedentary, which reduces the number of calories burnt on a daily basis. By not exerting energy, this causes the body to hoard fat calories and results in weight gain.
  7. To fight through the fatigue, the sleep deprived often turn to high-fat, sugary foods and/or drinks for quick energy bursts.  These foods contain “empty calories” that can pack on the pounds.
  8. Some people use alcohol as a sleep aid, which is a poor choice.  Alcohol may help with going to sleep but frequently “rebounds” by interrupting sleep and causing poor sleep quality, a negative for healthy weight.  In addition, the calories in alcohol can accumulate to add additional pounds.