Lack of Sleep and Weight Gain by Functional Nutritionist Andrea Nicholson

One simple thing you can do for yourself, to improve your health: get more (quality) sleep. Research shows that lack of sleep contributes to weight gain and an inability to lose weight. Let’s dive deeper into lack of sleep and weight gain.

Not sleeping can increase my waist size?

We rarely think of sleep when we are annoyed with our weight. Lack of quality sleep has been shown to alter mood and attention, but it also increases the risk of serious complications, such as Alzheimer’s disease and heart disease. However, many people don’t realize that too little sleep also contributes to increased fat mass.

Researchers and clinicians have found poor sleep quality is linked to obesity, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke. It’s estimated that 50-70 million Americans suffer from sleep disorders or sleep deprivation. Sleep problems can lead to hormonal imbalances, which can affect your appetite and satiety signals. Not getting enough sleep also interferes with the body’s ability to regulate insulin levels in the blood. In fact, research shows that poor sleep is associated with a significantly higher risk of becoming obese or overweight, especially when sleep loss is chronic.

Sleep holds a key to good health because of its impact on metabolism, appetite, and food choices – not getting enough sleep can lead you to eat higher calorie, less nutritious foods and maintain weight gain over time.
When you don’t sleep enough, your body releases more of the hormone ghrelin and less of the appetite-suppressing hormone leptin. This hormonal imbalance leads to increases in hunger levels.

Lack of sleep also means that your blood sugar control is affected, which can make it easier for some people to overeat or choose higher-calorie foods. Blood sugar can also be increased by the body feeling stressed due to lack of sleep. Cortisol, one of the major stress hormones, causes the liver to release stored sugars in anticipation of the need to flee or fight.

Of course, simply getting more sleep on its own isn’t going to be enough for everyone to lose weight; it’s important to follow a healthy lifestyle that also includes regular exercise and nutritious food choices, while prioritizing sufficient quality sleep.

What are some common things that interfere with sleep?

  1. Eating too late. Eating food too close to bedtime can dramatically effect your sleep. Now, I’m not saying eating late will make you gain weight—it may or may not. There is no direct mechanism for fat-gain by eating late, but there is a strong tendency for late-eaters to easily gain weight. Whether we have a meal or snack close to bedtime, our digestive system is still very active when we are trying to sleep. The food also causes glucose levels to rise. Both of these increase our body temperature, and being too warm contributes to an inability to sleep well. This is due to the thermic effect of food—the body has to work to digest and absorb what we eat, which generates heat. And any time blood sugar goes up, body temperature does too. Worse yet, if you eat a high-carbohydrate meal or snack before bed you get a spike in glucose and body temperature, resulting in more frequent waking and worse sleep. 
  2. Too much stimulation at night. There are a number of things that can interfere with sleep and throw off our circadian rhythms, which control the production of hormones that tells us when to sleep and wake. Excess light exposure in the evenings from artificial light sources (computers, tablets, cell phones, TV, and even light bulbs) is a major contributor to poor sleep. Computers, phones, tablets, and TVs emit artificial blue light. Even though blue light is not really visible to the human eye (it’s invisible on the electromagnetic spectrum), its presence is signaled by what we see with our eyes. Blue light can suppress levels of melatonin, a hormone that helps us sleep.
  3. Body altering substances. products we take into our bodies can directly affect our sleep quality (or lack thereof). Obvious products like caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine affect sleep quality, as do many medications and even some supplements.
  4. Poor sleep habits. Light in the bedroom can be really tough on sleep, since it disrupts your circadian rhythm. Even small amounts of light like an electronic alarm clock or a charging cell phone in your room, can make it very difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep. The same is true for noise. It is important to try to have as quiet a space as possible. If you have noise you cannot control, try adding a white noise machine, fan, or other monotonous noise to cover up outside noises. In order for your body to sleep well, your body needs to drop in temperature. This doesn’t happen if your bedroom/bed is too warm. Turn down the air, run a fan, or try a cool pad to help the body cool off. And one last thing – not having consistent bedtimes and wake times can make falling or staying asleep a challenge.

Lack of Sleep and Weight Gain

In this post, we’ve discussed the relationship between poor sleeping habits and weight gain (or an inability to lose weight). Sleep is a complex process that is sensitive to many stimuli. Pay attention to what you eat, when you eat, your routines, the sleep environment, and how you spend your evenings before you go to bed.


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