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Is a lack of Sleep Making You Fat?

In our busy modern age, sleep tends to get tossed into the ‘luxury’ category. We forgo sleep for a variety of reasons that range from social to work. “There isn’t enough hours in the day” is a common complaint because it always seems like we have so much to do. With such hectic schedules, sleep starts to fall low on the list of priorities. But, it shouldn’t.

Sleep deprivation comes with the side effects of fatigue, inability to concentrate, moodiness, increased stressed, and an increased risk for depression. Now, a new side effect can be added to the list: weight gain. Research has shown that not getting enough sleep could result in not fitting into your favorite pair of jeans.

Even when we think we’re getting through the day alright with only a few hours of sleep, our bodies don’t share that same opinion. Sleep is vital to our overall health because our bodies need to rest. They need time to recharge. When we don’t get the sleep we need, our bodies do not function at their peak or in a way that could be considered ‘normal’. One study found that when sleep deprived, people burn less energy after eating a meal. If the body doesn’t burn off all the energy it gets from food, it begins to store it in the form of fat. This means that even if someone is following all the healthy eating guidelines, they can still gain weight due to not getting enough sleep because their body will not be using the amount of energy it normally would.

Not only does our metabolism get out of order, but we’re more likely to eat less healthy foods when we’re not fully rested. Within a study, participants that were sleep deprived were seen to eat more high carbohydrate and fatty foods than the participants that were well rested, which led to weight gain. Their eating schedules changed as well, resulting in a small breakfast and a larger than average dinner. As soon as the sleep deprived participants were allowed to get more sleep, they reverted back to having healthier eating habits.

Hunger pangs can be influenced by sleep too. People that didn’t get enough sleep were found to have higher plasma ghrelin levels. Ghrelin is known as the “hunger hormone” because it’s the hormone that lets us know when we need to eat. Having a higher level of ghrelin than normal means that we’ll be more likely to snack throughout the day and overeat. The study that published this finding indicated that missing only a single night of sleep can have this effect.

A lack of sleep also effects us in a scarier way as well. There is some evidence that not getting enough sleep can make us become insulin resistant. This can cause weight gain because the amount of sugar in our bodies will not get utilized as well and that can result in both fat storage and a lowered ability to burn fat. It can also lead to Type 2 diabetes – a diseased caused and worsened by insulin resistance.

According to the National Sleep Foundation, adults need 7 – 9 hours of sleep each night to be fully rested. Everyone has had a night when it’s difficult to fall asleep but there are few strategies that can help.

Meditate.

This age-old practice is known for being relaxing. Fifteen minutes of mediation can help ease away stress and clear away the rush of thoughts and worries that could be keeping you up at night. The internet holds a wealth of information on the different forms of mediation and breathing techniques.

Avoid caffeine.

The main reason for drinking caffeine is to wake up and stay away so, naturally, caffeine is not going to be much help when trying to fall asleep. Limiting caffeine consumption to the morning hours only will allow it to get out of your system by the time you’re ready to go to sleep. If you’re a coffee lover, you can switch to decaf at night. If you just like having a hot drink to sip on while winding down after a long day, a cup of herbal tea will do the trick without keeping you awake all night.

Exercise.

People who exercise tend to sleep better and longer. Getting into a steady workout routine can help build up an equally steady sleeping schedule. Exercise can be anything from going out for a walk or run, going to the gym, or just doing light aerobics at home.

Read a book.

Reading a few chapters from a good book right before heading to bed can help sleep come a little easier. It refocuses your mind away from daily worries and stresses by letting you escape into a story, which will make it fall into a restful sleep.

Listen to music.

While heavy metal would not be recommended, music can have a relaxing effect. Much like meditation and reading a book, music helps your mind wind down from the day and get away from the type of thoughts that could be keeping you awake.

Have a good bed.

Even when you go to sleep at a decent hour, having a comfortable bed can mess up your sleeping pattern. If you’re tossing and turning all night in an attempt to find that one comfortable spot, you’re not getting as much rest as need. Making sure you have a comfortable bed and good pillows can do wonders when it comes to getting a good night’s rest.

References

Benedict, C., Hallschmid, M., Lassen, A., Mahnke, C., Schultes, B., Schioth, H., . . . Lange, T. (2011). Acute sleep deprivation reduces energy expenditure in healthy men. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 1229-1236.

Broussard, J., Ehrmann, D., Cauter, E., Tasali, E., & Brady, M. (2012). Impaired Insulin Signaling in Human Adipocytes After Experimental Sleep Restriction. Annals of Internal Medicine Ann Intern Med, 549-549.

How Much Sleep Do We Really Need? (n.d.). Retrieved January 18, 2016, from https://sleepfoundation.org/how-sleep-works/how-much-sleep-do-we-really-need

Patel, S., Malhotra, A., White, D., Gottlieb, D., & Hu, F. (2006). Association between Reduced Sleep and Weight Gain in Women. American Journal of Epidemiology, 947-954.