The demands of your work and family responsibilities may be causing you to cut back on your sleep. But a lack of sleep is really bad for your waistline. In this article, we talk about how a lack of sleep causes weight gain and what you can do to overcome this problem.
First, let’s understand why sleep-deprived people tend to gain weight. Here are some of the ways that sleep deprivation results in weight gain:
Your hunger hormones change
Long story short, sleep deprivation messes with your hormones in a way that promotes weight gain. More specifically, when we are sleep deprived, leptin (a hormone that suppresses the appetite) levels fall. On the other hand, ghrelin (a hormone that stimulates the appetite) tends to increase when we don’t get enough sleep. [Ref 1] [Ref 2]
Your cravings increase for sweets and high-fat food
When you’re under pressure to meet a deadline for work, do you ever stay up and work through the night? If so, notice what happens to your appetite when you stay up late.
Sleep-deprived people typically crave calorie-dense, high-fat and sugar-laden junk foods. In the middle of the night, people are more likely to eat processed carbohydrates, like chips and cookies. When you eat processed food, you may crave even more. When you feel stressed out and tired, a kale blueberry salad is not as comforting as candy, pizza or French fries.
In general, sleepy people have poor judgment, which contributes to unhealthy food choices. As a consequence, they eat more calories and tend to gain weight. [Ref 3]
You have more time available to eat
When you sleep less, you’re likely to eat more. This is because the longer you’re awake, the more opportunity you have to eat. If you’re super stressed out, working late on a project, you may even be snacking mindlessly to stay awake even if you don’t feel hungry. To make matters worse, at least one study shows that eating late at night creates a vicious cycle by increasing the time it takes people to fall asleep. [Ref 4]
Doctors, nurses, law enforcement officers, and a number of other professionals are known for working late into the night. However, retirees are increasingly staying up late as well. Some enjoy entertaining themselves with television and social media into the wee hours of the night. This increases the opportunity for endless snacking.
Your metabolism slows
Lack of sleep causes weight gain because it has been shown to lower your energy expenditure and body temperature. As a result, you burn fewer calories at rest during the day. Therefore you increase the risk of storing more calories and gaining weight. In addition, if you’re feeling tired, there is a greater chance that you’re also becoming sedentary and not really getting the proper amount of exercise. All of these factors increase your risk of gaining weight.
Ways to get better sleep
There are several ways that you can get a good night’s sleep.
- Prioritize sleep going forward
- Avoid stimulants like caffeine in the afternoon
- Be mindful of snacking in the evening
- When the sun goes down, decrease your exposure to light (especially blue light from screens and TV)
- Choose a consistent bedtime (most adults need 7-9 hours sleep)
- Create a relaxing bedtime routine such as a warm bath
- Sleep in a dark quiet room
Lack of sleep is one of the major contributors to weight gain in our modern society. As you implement these healthy changes and get better sleep, it will be easier for you to lose weight and support your health goals.
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