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Can Lack of Sleep Make You Gain Weight?

A lack of sleep may be making you more than just tired. A lack of sleep may be making you more than just tired.

Are you gaining weight but aren’t sure why? The answer may surprise you. It has been determined that a lack of sleep could be making you gain weight. As most of us don’t get as much sleep as we should – especially quality, deep sleep – we can rightfully be concerned that our sleeplessness results in more than just droopy eyes and grumpy disposition.

How can sleep deprivation affect your weight? First you need to understand the sleep-diet connection. Michael Breus, PhD, clinical director of the sleep division for Arrowhead Health in Arizona, explains “If you are sleep-deprived, meaning that you are not getting enough minutes of sleep or good quality sleep, your metabolism will not function properly.” Metabolism is the process that converts food into energy. Decreased metabolism causes your body to burn fewer calories and less fat, as well as potentially causing your body to store excess fat as reserve. Obviously not good news for your waistline.

Not getting enough sleep is very common. Some guys may even talk about their all-nighters with pride, revelling in their ability to party ‘til morning and still function. What they don’t realize is how much their lack of sleep is costing them. On average, our bodies need about 7.5 hours of quality sleep each night. When we don’t get those 7 hours of zzzs, we fall into sleep debt. Susan Zafarlofti, PhD, clinical director of the Institute for Sleep and Wake Disorders in New Jersey, states “Sleep debt is like credit card debt. If you keep accumulating credit card debt, you will pay high interest rates or your account will be shut down until you pay it all off. If you accumulate too much sleep debt, your body will crash.”

One of the ways our bodies react to sleep debt is by reaching for more snacks and eating comfort food. If you’re sitting at work fighting to stay awake, not only are you chugging the coffee, you’re also grabbing potato chips, candy bars and other unhealthy snacks. When you’re running low on energy, your natural inclination is to eat. This automatic habit may seem harmless at first, but it will eventually catch up with you – in the form of extra pounds and inches.

Another factor in the sleep deprivation and weight issue are two hormones called ghrelin and leptin. Ghrelin increases feelings of hunger, while leptin acts to suppress appetite. In a study performed by Dr. Shahrad Taheri, people who habitually slept for 5 hours were found to have 15% more ghrelin – the hunger hormone - than those who slept for 8 hours. Those who slept for fewer hours were also found to have 15% less leptin – the hormone that tells you to stop eating. If you’re not getting enough sleep, these hormonal changes may contribute significantly to your weight gain.

Obviously when you are overtired, you won’t be exercising as much or as often as you should. Combined with the other factors of sleep debt, you’re fighting a losing battle trying to maintain a healthy weight. You need to adjust your habits and lifestyle to improve your quantity and quality of sleep. Avoid caffeine late in the day, and don’t eat right before bed. Try to get at least 20 to 30 minutes of exercise every other day. Not only will this help you lose the weight you’ve gained, but it will also increase your chances of getting a good night’s sleep – the ultimate way to fight sleep-deprived weight gain.

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Last modified on Tuesday, 16 October 2012 14:39

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