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Lack of sleep and link to weight gain

Lack of sleep and link to weight gain

A stark reality of burning the candle at both ends is that it tends to lead to bad habit forming and, unfortunately, inches around the waistline. 

When it comes to bad habit forming, all you have to do is think of the nights that you stayed up well into the evening to finish that important project or bang out a report. The sugary coffee to help you stay awake, the ordered takeout because there's no time to cook, or the leftovers piled high with anything else you could cobble together from the fridge to eat at your desk. 

The result? A night with sleepiness staved off and a finished report for one, but the quiet stage setting for obesity as well. Because not only do bad habits lead to unsteady dieting and lack of exercise due to lack of energy and will, but sleep deprivation actually negatively affects things like mood, blood pressure, immune response, and last but certainly not least; your metabolism. 

Exactly why we are affected by our lack of sleep in the weight loss department can be explained, in part, by our nightly hormones; specifically, ghrelin and leptin. 

"Ghrelin is the hormone that tells you when to eat, and when you are sleep-deprived, you have more ghrelin," explains Michael Breus, PhD, author of Beauty Sleep and the clinical director of the sleep division for Arrowhead Health in Glendale, Ariz. "Leptin is the hormone that tells you to stop eating, and when you are sleep deprived, you have less leptin."

So the simple reality as to why you're gaining weight when you work into the midnight hour, as explained by Mr. Breus:  "You are eating more, plus your metabolism is slower when you are sleep-deprived," Breus says.

So the next logical question is obviously, what can be done about it? 

Well, according to Dr. Breus, a lot; with the first step being checking your quantity of sleep as well as your quality of sleep. "Some people such as new moms may only get to sleep for a four-hour stretch. And there are some people who get 7.5 hours of sleep that is poor quality because of pain or an underlying sleep disorder, and this has the same effect as if they got less sleep" he says. 

To make sure to sleep through the night, take necessary, and actually rather obvious, steps to improve your sleep quality by doing things such as making sure you don't drink coffee after lunch, and avoiding foods high in fat and sugar before bed. 

Also, recommended by Mr. Breus is unplugging at least an hour before bed, that means no electronics in the bedroom, and at most a book and a lampshade for light reading before you hit the hay. 

If you sleep through the night without waking up frequently or only grabbing a few hours at a time, but still wake up feeling sleepy, talk to your doctor about recommending a sleep specialist, who can conduct an evaluation or "sleep study" of your nightly rest and identify any underlying problems while working towards a treatment. 

About the author

Dr. Constance Odom, MD

5 min read