I’m often asked by clients about sleep and weight loss. Lack of sleep, studies show, is a huge factor in weight gain. Sleep, besides being the thing you do before you are awake, has very important hormonal and metabolic functions that regulate weight loss. I am a known light sleeper and insomniac and as much as I would like to attribute this lack of sleep to a feverishly active intellect, it is really my worry- wart mentality that keeps me up. While trying to research ways to get some shut eye, I came across many studies that link lack of sleep to weight gain. So now this is what I am worrying about…
There are several hormones that are directly affected by a body’s lack of sleep. Leptin and ghrelin work together to regulate feelings of hunger and fullness. Leptin, produced in fat cells, gives feeling of fullness while ghrelin, produced in the gastrointestinal tract, stimulates appetite. However, studies show that when there is lack of sleep, leptin levels go down, while ghrelin levels go up simultaneously, so you’re hungrier and feel less full. Low levels of leptin also create carbohydrate cravings, while suppressing the body’s ability to metabolize them properly.
Another hormone affected by lack of sleep, is cortisol, often referred to as the “stress hormone” and is produced by the adrenal gland. Without adequate rest, the body’s cortisol levels will spike and cause high blood pressure, increased blood sugar and a lowering of immune responses. In other words you will feel hungrier and more stressed, which lead to bad food choices.
Staying awake all night also decreases levels of Growth Hormone in the body. It prevents the regulation of body proportion of fat and muscles in the body. Growth hormone has important effects on the metabolism of protein, fat and carbohydrates and can result in insulin resistance and fat storage.
Another interesting study showed that women, who suffered from sleeplessness and did not eat more than usual, still gained weight. This study indicates that sleep may have an effect on BMR (Basal Metabolic Rate) the rate of calories your body burns while at rest. Lower BMR stops your metabolism right in its tracks, and it is harder to lose weight.
Sleep deprivation causes anxiety and feelings of depression both of which ignite emotional eating. In addition, people will rely on sugary foods and caffeine to combat their feeling of tiredness which in turns adds to their inability to sleep. In my experience with insomnia, I tried several over the counter sleeping pills which I do not recommend. I woke up groggy and had no energy. I also noticed I felt down, and just thought I was going through a phase. It wasn’t until I stopped taking the pills that my mood regulated.
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Try these natural tips for sleep instead.
1. Don’t eat before bed (more on this in the video below)
2. Eliminate caffeine after 1 p.m.
3. Create cool (68 degrees) and dark environment in your bedroom
4. Exercise-fatigue yourself to sleep
5. Cut back on alcohol, it disrupts sleep patterns
Make sleep a priority in your life, not a luxury. Do as much as you can today, but remember, there is always tomorrow. Your body needs to heal, restore and regulate itself. Give your body the rest it needs and watch your pounds melt away.
-Fiorella DiCarlo RD, RDN, CDN