Diana Kelly Levey

6 Ways Sleep Affects Your Weight

September 24, 2017 | Categories:

All of us can relate to dreading the long day ahead when you’ve had a terrible night’s sleep. Not only does a poor night’s sleep probably affect your mood and energy, but it can also impact your eating habits and weight—especially if short sleep becomes a habit. Here, sleep experts and science share how not getting enough sleep impacts your weight negatively.

It throws your hunger hormones out of whack.

“If sleep is restricted, what can happen is that weight is gained and there is also increased appetite that’s affected,” says Clete A. Kushida, MD, PhD, FAASM, Medical Director of the Stanford Sleep Medicine Center. The hormone ghrelin triggers your appetite and leptin is the hormone that signals to your brain that the body is full. “With sleep deprivation, what can happen is ghrelin increases and leptin decreases,” says Dr. Kushida. He says that most studies show how these hormone changes happen in controlled situations over a few weeks when the subjects’ normal sleep is decreased by about three hours, but one study demonstrated that even losing 30 minutes of sleep on weekdays could impact your weight and metabolism. Learn 7 sneaky reasons you can’t lose weight.

You’ll be more likely to overeat the next day.

Recent research published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition combined the study results of smaller studies to conclude that sleep restriction can lead to eating more the next day. The meta analysis combined the results of 11 studies with a total of 172 participants who had partial sleep restriction (on average 3- to 5.5 hours of sleep per night) consumed over 300 calories more the following day than participants who got more sleep in those studies. “On average, the pooled effects of 11 smaller studies showed that sleep-deprived people consumed an average of 365 calories extra per day, which is equivalent to about 4.5 slices of bread,” says study author Dr. Gerda Pot, visiting Lecturer at King’s College London, Diabetes and Nutritional Sciences Division and Assistant Professor at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, Section Health and Life. Dr. Pot says the extra calories could be due to a few theories, like having more hours that we’re awake to eat so there’s more time to eat. But sleep deprivation also affects what we eat, so we eat more calories and more of the bad calories (more fat), she says. This could due to a disruption of our hunger hormones. “Another potential mechanism it has an effect on is our food intake mechanisms,” says Dr. Pot. Food intake is regulated by two complementary drives: homeostatic and hedonic. Hedonic relates to the drive to eat to obtain pleasure in the absence of an energy deficit (think emotional eating). “Whereas the homeostatic pathway controls energy balance by increasing the motivation to eat following depletion of energy stores. A greater motivation to seek food could be an explanation for the increased food intake seen in sleep-deprived people,” says Dr. Pot. “A third explanation could be that not sleeping not enough leads to a deregulation of our internal body clock. Our internal body clock makes sure that our metabolizing of foods happens at the most optimal time. By not getting enough sleep, this mechanism could be disrupted. If long-term sleep deprivation continues to result in an increased calorie intake of this magnitude, it may contribute to weight gain. So it is worth investigating this further,” says Dr. Pot. She said that the study results also found people proportionally consumed more fat and less protein after partial sleep deprivation. If you didn’t get enough sleep last night, resolve to focus on eating wholesome, clean foods, and consider tracking your calories to make sure you’re not going over your daily limit. Remember to beware high-calorie, sugar-packed caffeinated beverages that can seem like a quick fix as well. Find out how your weekend sleep habits are wrecking weekday sleep.

Your body may suffer from insulin disruptions.

Sleep deprivation of 4.5 hours compared with a healthier 8.5 hours impaired study subjects’ insulin sensitivities by about 30 percent when it came to dealing with subcutaneous fat cells, according to one study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine. Though this was a small study, the research showed that sleep loss could impact even deep tissues and how the body metabolizes glucose, both of which can impact weight gain. Insulin resistance is one of the main culprits in the association between obesity, particularly visceral, and metabolic as well as non-metabolic diseases. Read about the best foods for diabetics.


It can hurt your training routine.

“We know that poor sleep is associated with impacting athletic performance, and performance-related exercise,” says Dr. Kushida. “The problem is to know whether the performance impact is due to sleepiness, or whether that’s due to physiological changes cause by sleep loss.” He says that the same question arises in studies where a mouse runs through a maze, then is sleep deprived, and then runs the same maze again. “You don’t know whether the performance deficit is due to forgetfulness from sleep loss, or if the sleep deprivation affects their muscles or brain function. It’s hard to separate the physiological and physical impact of sleep loss from the brain function,” says Dr. Kushida. Even if short-term sleep deprivation doesn’t impact your performance in the gym, studies show that it does have an adverse affect on reaction time, which might come into play if you’re having a catch with your kids.

You might be less motivated to exercise.

While it isn’t scientifically clear about how sleep loss affects motivation to exercise, Dr. Kushida says we know that people who have sleep problems are at an increased risk for depression symptom, anxiety, and other mood disorders. If your doctor prescribed antidepressants for your depression symptoms, there are links between taking this medication and gaining a few pounds, according to the journal JAMA Psychiatry. Other studies in recent years have shown associations between antidepressants and obesity, possibly because the drugs increase appetite. Talk to your doctor about the medications you’re on, whether sleep problems make be associated with your depression, and his/her best advice for moving forward. Here’s how to start an exercise plan.

You’re nightly wine habit could be waking you up.

“If a person chooses to have an alcoholic drink before bed, they’re less likely to have REM sleep,” says Dr. Kushida. Not only is the alcohol tacking extra calories onto your daily total, but also studies show that while alcohol can help you fall asleep, as it’s metabolized, it can lead to disrupted sleep. Amongst those who suffer from sleep apnea—a serious sleep disorder in which breathing stops and starts — Dr. Kushida says alcohol can relax the muscles in the back of the throat even more, leading to more collapse, and causing the person to wake up. (Here’s need-to-know wine information for beginners.)

If you’re not sleeping well, or have a lot of daytime sleepiness, or problems falling asleep, or interruptions during your sleep, or your sleep patterns have shifted, Dr. Kushida recommends discuss these issues with your GP or a sleep specialist to find a resolution. They can go to Sleepcenters.org

This article was written for RealSimple.com.

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