Sleep deprivation and weight gain go hand in hand, experts say


According to sleep experts, losing out on shut-eye, in addition to contributing to groggy feelings on a regular basis, may also interfere with the ability to lose weight. (1) “There is no doubt that insufficient sleep promotes hunger and appetite, which can cause excessive food intake resulting in weight gain,” says Eve Van Cauter, director of the Sleep, Metabolism and Health Center at the University of Chicago. (1)

Why sleep deprivation and weight gain go hand in hand

Van Cauter explains that the human body is not designed to operate in a sleep-deprived state and that doing so wreaks havoc on its ability to properly regulate appetite.

For example, tired people tend to make unhealthier food choices than those who have received proper amounts of sleep. In fact, some research has shown that when individuals didn’t get enough sleep over the course of five days, they gained two pounds during that time mostly due to increased carbohydrate consumption. (1) During the day, sleep-deprived people also indulge in more snacks, consuming about 300 calories more per day than those who are well-rested. They also engage in little to no physical activity, likely because they are so tired.

Quite simply, lack of sleep tampers with the body’s ability to handle energy storage and also impacts the hormones that play a role in hunger regulation. National Spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Marjorie Nolan Cohn, says that balancing two key hormones, ghrelin and leptin, is essential. (2). Ghrelin is the hormone that triggers feelings of hunger, while leptin is the hormone that triggers the feeling of fullness. When the two are not in balance, weight gain can occur. Other hormones linked to eating for pleasure, endocannabinoids, spike during the afternoon in sleep-deprived people. (1)

Sleep is also important for children when it comes to controlling weight. Boston researchers found that a 7-year-old who had less than 12 hours of when they were between the ages of 6 months and 2 years had 36 percent more of a chance of becoming obese than a child who received more sleep during that timeframe. (3)

Tips on getting better sleep, balancing hunger hormones

According to the Mayo Clinic, adults should get 7-8 hours of sleep, school-age children should have 9-11 hours of sleep, and toddlers should enjoy 9-10 hours with up to three hours of napping. (4)

To get more sleep, meditative practices such as yoga may help. Additionally, eating foods such as rolled oats, Brazil nuts, and sweet potatoes can keep ghrelin and leptin hormones more balanced while ones like bananas, almonds and flax seeds work with the body to induce sleep. (2, 5)

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