You stifle a yawn and reach for the third cup of morning coffee. The half-eaten chocolate doughnut stares at you, and you stare back wondering how it ended up there. Fatigue, lack of focus, unusual craving for sugary foods …these are desperate signals from your body that you’re sleep deprived. You shrug off these signs as you negotiate with the demands of your never-ending schedule of to-dos. And when you look at your waistline, you may not realize that poor sleep causes weight gain.
You probably won’t die from lack of sleep (not immediately anyway), but this cycle definitely has a negative effect on your body and mind. And, numerous research studies reveal a strong connection between reduced sleep and weight gain.
If you barely get four hours of sleep at night, you’ve just increased your obesity risk.
Do you sleep for 5-6 hours on most nights? You may think it’s enough, but this is not an adequate amount of sleep. Not only can poor sleep affect your focus, it can affect your overall health and cause weight gain too. You’re likely to pile on pounds without knowing it and the worst part– your efforts to lose weight while you continue to be sleep-deprived may be in vain.
Here are some reasons why inadequate sleep may be the hidden culprit behind your weight gain.
How Poor Sleep Causes Weight Gain
Food Cravings on the Rise
The hormone, leptin, is your satiety controller that works in the background. In individuals with normal sleeping patterns, this hormone sends “full now” signals and ensures they don’t overeat. When you struggle to get quality sleep for days on end, the hormone goes into hiding and your body produces less of it. What follows is a weight watcher’s nightmare – constant hunger, craving for salty and sugary foods (the greasier the better), binge eating and midnight snacking. You can guess the rest!
Sleep and Hunger Effect
Reduced sleep causes hormone imbalances, especially in ones associated with fat burning and storage. You’ve seen the effect on sleep on your satiety button. Sleep deprivation has the opposite effect on ghrelin – your hunger button. Your brain plays the role of a hacker as it orders this hormone to jam the nerve signals. You constantly feel hungry and consume more calories than you’ll ever burn. Unfortunately, you don’t always get these calories from good food sources. Weight gain is pretty much a given in this situation.
Struggling Liver and Insulin on the Rampage
Your liver can only handle 10-15 gms of sugar a day. Add more to your system and your liver stops metabolizing sugar and carbs. They are stored as fat wherever there is cell space in your body. To break down your sugary indulgence, more insulin is secreted. Like ghrelin, increased insulin production is a bad thing as it leads to insulin resistance in fat cells. In other words, these cells board up their doors and refuse to release their warriors for the calorie-burn battle.
Dipping Metabolic Rate
Did you know that your body continues to burn calories in rest phase? When you’re struggling to get enough sleep, the metabolic rate slows down. Lack of sleep decreases the production of hormones like Adiponectin and GH that regulate metabolic activity. You’re too tired and stressed out to exercise the next day which means fewer calories burned. Elevated levels of stress hormone Cortisol, disrupts fat burning and muscle building process. All these factors add to a sluggish metabolism creating a vicious cycle.
If you’re not losing weight despite your best efforts, or constantly tired, hungry and gaining weight, the solution might be in our sleeping patterns.
Alicia Hyatte is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, Family Wellness Expert, and Health Educator. She creates impactful, evidence-based health and wellness content and programs for individuals, families, and communities.