Insufficient sleep has long been linked to numerous health problems, including excessive weight gain. Research has shown that individuals who skimp on sleep weigh more than those who consistently get a full night’s rest.
For example, The Nurses’ Health Study, which followed more than 60,000 women for up to 16 years, found that women who slept fewer than five hours per night were at greater risk for gaining significant weight – up to 30 pounds – than women who averaged seven or more hours of sleep.
There are many possible reasons for the relationship between poor sleep and weight gain. Let’s look at a couple of them:
Not Getting Enough Sleep Can Affect Hormone Levels
One significant factor is that not getting enough sleep can affect the hormone levels that regulate how hungry you feel.
Sleep deprivation increases ghrelin, an appetite-stimulating hormone, while also lowering levels of leptin, a hormone that induces satiety. One University of Chicago study found that participants got only four hours of sleep two nights in a row and had their leptin levels decrease by 18 percent. Again, leptin is the hormone that signals to the brain that you are full.
By altering these hormones, sleep deprivation spikes feelings of hunger in general and increases cravings specifically for calorie-rich foods such as processed sugars and junk food.
The amount of leptin in the blood is inversely correlated with endocannabinoid (eCB), which has a role in regulating appetite, feeding and energy homeostasis. Researchers looked at the possible effect of sleep deprivation on the eCB system through a randomized crossover study involving 14 healthy women and men in their twenties. They investigated the role of insufficient sleep in the activation of the eCB system, and its effect on controlling appetite and food intake.
Lack Of Sleep Can Make You Hungrier
Sleep-deprived participants reported increased hunger and appetite, particularly in the late afternoon and early evening. Sleep-curtailed individuals chose snacks with 50 percent higher calories and nearly twice as much fat content compared to the snacks chosen by fully rested participants. These snacks were also consumed after eating a meal with 90 percent of their recommended daily calorie intake two hours earlier.
This study suggests that the activation of eCBs during periods of sleep debt enhances appetite making it difficult to resist unhealthy foods. The amount of calories in the snacks is also in excess of what a person needs in their extra waking hours. This proved that sleeping less than the optimal number of hours encourages overeating and contributes to weight gain.
Getting Better Sleep
A good rule of thumb is to try and get seven to nine hours of sleep each night. Putting the right nutrients into your body makes a world of difference in supporting deep, refreshing, and restorative sleep.
Simply increasing the amount of sleep you get by even one hour each night can help you lose up to 14 pounds over the course of a single year. Do things later in the evening designed to help your body cycle down and prepare for sleep. Our 13 Tips for A Great Night’s Sleep can easily get you started.