It’s a proven fact that not getting enough quality sleep can have a serious effect on your weight. During the time you spend not sleeping, the body is slowly but surely packing on the pounds. When you don’t get enough sleep, it’s very easy to rely on a large cup of coffee to keep you awake and energized. Then you may be tempted to miss a workout, ‘cause you’re too tired, get takeout for lunch or dinner and then not fall asleep until late in the evening because you’re stuffed with food.
If all this happens every once in a while, it won’t pose much of a problem. However, studies have shown that more than a third of Americans are not getting the sleep they need on a daily basis. All experts agree that getting good night’s rest is crucial to preserving your health, well-being and maintaining a healthy weight, the same as having a proper diet and exercising regularly.
How a sleepy brain works
Not getting enough sleep makes the brain prone to making bad decisions. It slows down the activity in the brain’s frontal lobe, the locus of making decisions and control of impulses. So, you might say it’s very similar to being drunk. You will not be capable of making rational decisions.
Additionally, when you’re too tired, the reward center inside the brain revs up, looking for anything that may feel good. This means that while you may be able to resist the food cravings when you’re well-rested when your brain is deprived of sleep, you may find it very had to say no to that delicious piece of cake.
Research supports this claim. A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that when people did not get enough sleep, snacking late at night increased, and these snacks were much more likely to have a high carb content.
In another study, sleep-deprived subjects chose snacks with twice the amount of fat as those who had an 8-hour sleep. A second study found that not sleeping enough causes people to eat bigger meal portions, which logically leads to increased weight gain. It was also found that a lack of quality sleep led to increased cravings for calorie-dense, high carb foods. When you add all of this together, it seems that a sleepy brain craves junk food while at the same time lacks the control to say no to such food.
Hunger control hormones
You can look at sleep as a kind of nutrition for the brain. The majority of people need about 7-9 hours of sleep each night. When you sleep less than that, the body will start behaving in such a way that will cause even the most disciplined dieter to break down and start eating junk food. Why is that? Because a lack of sleep negatively affects the hunger and fullness regulating hormones, the two most important being ghrelin and leptin.
Ghrelin signals the brain that it’s time to eat. When you don’t get enough sleep, the body releases more ghrelin. On the other hand, leptin signals the brain to stop eating. Again, when you don’t get enough sleep, leptin levels decrease, which signals the brain to eat more food. When you combine both outcomes, it’s safe to conclude that sleep deprivation causes overeating and increased weight. Not to mention, that cortisol levels significantly increase from not sleeping enough.
Cortisol is the stress hormone and it signals the brain to conserve energy which will be used as fuel throughout the day. Simply put, this will make your body prone to storing fat.
Scientists found that when people on a weight-loss diet slept less than 7 hours over a two-week period, the amount of weight that they lost decreased by almost 50%, even though they consumed the same number of calories daily. They reported feeling hungrier and less satiated after their meals and their energy levels were low. Lack of sleep also decreases your metabolic rate.
Researchers have found that it takes only 4 days of insufficient sleep for your body’s ability to process insulin (the hormone in charge of transforming sugar, starches and other types of food into energy) to drastically decrease. Insulin sensitivity was reported to have decreased by more than 30%.
The reason why this is bad is that when the body does not react properly to insulin, it has trouble processing the fats from the bloodstream, and in the end stores them as fat.
This doesn’t mean that if you get enough sleep, you’ll lose weight, it means that sleeping too little inhibits your metabolism and contributes to gaining weight.
Tips and tricks for a good night’s sleep
In our modern world, snoozing can be difficult, especially when all your electronic devices like TVs, computers, cell phones, and tablets cause you to stay up just a little bit longer. The fixes are very simple:
- Turn off the computer, TV and cell phone at least an hour before you go to bed.
- Use the bedroom for sleep and sex only. It should be a place reserved for rest and relaxation, not work or entertainment.
- Have a bedtime ritual. This is not the time to think of big life decisions or issues. Take a nice warm bath instead, meditate or read a nice book.
- Follow a strict sleeping schedule, wake up and go to bed at the same time every day, even on the weekends.
- Watch carefully what you eat and when you eat. Avoid eating calorie-dense meals and alcohol before going to bed, which may cause heartburn and make it harder for you to fall asleep. Also, avoid sugary drinks, soda, coffee, tea and chocolate after 2 p.m. Caffeine can stay active in your body for 4-5 hours.
- Turn off the lights. The darkness signals the body to release the sleep hormone melatonin, while light suppresses it.