When I’m overtired it’s pretty easy to tell: My energy sags, I don’t feel like exercising, and I’m super susceptible to cravings—especially sugar. My wife jokes that every hour of sleep lost equates to one extra chocolate chip cookie per day!
I wouldn’t be surprised if your sleep-deprivation struggles are similar. And neither would researchers—there’s now a considerable body of evidence linking sleep and weight. Here’s what we know, so far, about how getting insufficient shuteye can lead to weight gain.
- You don’t burn fat for energy as well. Sleeping less increases insulin resistance, a precursor to developing type-2 diabetes. Put simply here’s what that means: Your body produces more insulin, a fat storage hormone. And the more you produce, the less glucose you burn for energy and the more fat you pack on. Case in point: One large study that followed participants over a 5- to 10-year period found that people who slept less than 7 hours a night were more likely to be obese.
- Your appetite increases. Again, out-of-whack hormones are to blame: The first is ghrelin, an appetite stimulate produced in the gastrointestinal tract. The second is leptin, a hormone produced in fat cells that helps signal satiety. When you don’t get enough sleep, ghrelin levels spike—increasing your appetite—and leptin levels plummet, triggering hunger. The result? You’re more likely to overeat and gain weight.
- You have less energy to move more and eat well. The exhaustion that results from sleep deprivation—especially when it’s chronic—can also sabotage your weight loss efforts. A University of Chicago study found that when healthy young men went from sleeping up to 10 hours a night to four, their cravings for fattening, high carbohydrate, high-calorie foods increased by 45 percent.
How to Fall Asleep Faster and Stay Asleep Longer
If you’re serious about losing weight, you’ve got to prioritize getting rest. Here’s how to encourage your body to stay on track.
- Keep a consistent sleep schedule. Going to bed and waking up at roughly the same time each day will train your body’s circadian rhythm (ie: its internal clock) to keep the same schedule. The result? You fall asleep faster and wake up easier.
- Soak up morning light. Pull the curtains open, take a short walk, or drink your coffee on the porch. Exposing your body to daylight as soon as you wake up helps keep your internal clock in sync, which is essential to regulating your core body temperature and melatonin levels—two things critical to sleep regulation.
- Take a brisk walk. Doing four 30- to 40-minute walks a week helps people with insomnia sleep longer and wake up more refreshed than those who don’t walk as much, find a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
- Socialize. Feeling isolated can interfere with healthy sleep habits and promote stress. Get together with friends to foster social support and a sense of belonging. Feeling like your life has meaning is associated with sleep duration and more REM sleep.
- Adjust your thermostat. Your body temperature naturally decreases to initiate sleep. Help start the process by ensuring the temperature of your bedroom is between 60 and 67 degrees Fahrenheit.
Still having trouble catching z’s? Pick up a copy of 5 Pounds: The Breakthrough 5-Day Plan to Jump-Start Rapid Weight Loss (And Never Gain it Back!) for more tips and tricks.
And then discover the final step in the My 5 Plan: Disconnect From These Devices to Drop Pounds.
This article is not intended to substitute for informed medical advice. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or condition. Always check with your doctor before changing your diet, altering your sleep habits, taking supplements, or starting a new fitness routine.