In today’s article I’d like to discuss – How does lack of sleep cause weight gain?
You are probably already aware that if you’re not sleeping enough that this is having an impact on your daily life.
I would hazard a guess that you struggle through the day feeling tired, lethargic and extremely unmotivated.
However, this is just the tip of the iceberg.
A lack of sleep can actually lead to a whole host of physical and emotional issues.
In fact, there is scientific evidence to prove that sleep deprivation can be the catalyst for a number of chronic health conditions including, coronary heart disease, diabetes, cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), depression, just to name a few.
With that being said, the link between a poor quality of sleep and gaining weight is one that you may not be aware of.
What Happens Inside The Body When You’re Not Getting Enough Sleep?
Before I look into the subject of weight gain and a lack of sleep I wanted to explore what actually happens inside the body when you’re sleep deprived.
If you’re not sleeping well, the body’s initial reaction is to release the stress hormone, cortisol.
This is completely natural if the body finds itself in a stressful situation, and I would say not getting a decent night’s sleep is pretty stressful for both the brain and the body.
The release of cortisol will set off a chain reaction of events, which is simply a vicious circle.
You’re not getting enough sleep and so you feel stressed out. Because you’re stressed out the body releases cortisol. Due to the increased levels of the stress hormone in your body you find it difficult to sleep. And this cycle goes on-and-on until you are finally able to break it.
Unfortunately, for some of us, we never learn how to break free of this constant cycle of stress and bad sleep.
And this can be when you start to suffer from any one of the health conditions I mentioned above.
I have discussed these various issues in other articles on this website, but back to the subject at hand – Weight Gain.
You’re Energy Levels Suck
We already know how a bad night’s sleep affects our energy levels the following day.
However, if you’re someone who works out regularly, you’ll know that you simply don’t have as much energy to exercise when you’re not rested well.
Many of us have experienced days at the gym where everything seems ten times harder (or heavier).
I know from my own experience that I’ve struggled to complete a set, I choose “easier” exercises, as I just can’t face the thought of a heavy squat or deadlift. Although, even then I still occasionally tap out early.
You may even try some cardio, but then your brain takes over.
“You’re never going to make 5k.”
“I think if I do another 10 rows I’m gonna puke.”
“Even this crosstrainer seems like hard work today.”
Eventually, it’s all too much, and you decide to call it a day.
Now imagine if you’re new to exercise or you know you should be exercising more, but never seem to get round to it.
I will guarantee that not sleeping well is not going to want to make you exercise more.
Over a period of time muscle mass will start to decrease, the fat stores in your body will begin to increase, and exercise will seem like devil incarnate, as you are completely sapped of energy from a lack of rest.
I’m sure you don’t need me to point out that isn’t ideal if you’re trying to burn those extra, unwanted calories.
Additionally, the stress hormone cortisol is known to have an adverse effect on both your fitness and muscle goals. All-in-all, it’s a lose-lose situation.
Speaking of Extra Calories
I could never work out why whenever I hadn’t slept well I had this uncontrollable urge to gorge on unhealthy foods. This was especially true of foods ladened in fat, or fried, or my personal favorite, anything covered in sugar (donut anyone?)
I always assumed this was just my mind playing a powerful trick on me and telling me that I wanted all these “goodies” inside my body.
As it turns out, I wasn’t actually that far off the mark.
From my in-depth study into my own issues with sleep, I came across the two hormones which regulate hunger, namely ghrelin and leptin.
Furthermore, it appears these hormones are often affected by sleep, or lack of, as the case may be.
Ghrelin will stimulate hunger, whereas leptin will decrease how hungry we are (I can see you all now, rushing to find out which foods increase leptin levels. Don’t worry, I’ve got you covered – proteins, such as meat, chicken, turkey and eggs. Fatty fish including salmon and sardines. Leafy greens like kale, spinach and broccoli. And finally look to increase your intake of fiber and zinc).
Anyway, when we are sleep deprived, our leptin levels tend to fall and our ghrelin levels will spike, which of course makes us feel more hungry.
I would also assume that willpower plays a large part in the food choices we make when we’re tired.
Are you going to spend an hour, if not more, cooking a lovely, nutritious meal with fresh ingredients or would it be easier to just get McDonald’s?
A beautiful freshly made fruit salad – oh look Krispy Kreme delivers now.
You get my drift.
We typically make some very bad food choices when we’re sleep deprived (although ghrelin and leptin prove that this isn’t completely our fault) and this is just going to add another notch or two to that belt buckle.
The Role of Insulin
If you’re not sleeping well at night this is likely to cause havoc with your insulin production.
And this is absolutely no good for your blood sugar levels.
The main role of insulin is to remove sugar from your bloodstream. Basically, insulin “informs” the cells that they should absorb certain nutrients and broken-down sugar.
There will be some sugar that remains in your bloodstream and insulin will direct this to your muscles and liver.
Whenever we get enough rest and eat healthily we tend to store this energy, thus allowing our blood sugar levels to return to normal. Your metabolism will then store this “extra” energy into the cells of the body and various other organs.
However, by consuming processed foods loaded with sugar and carbs, your insulin levels will feel all out of sync, thus causing blood sugar levels to spike. This is not good news for what goes on in the bloodstream and around the body.
Your pancreas typically has to work overtime in order to produce more insulin so that the extra levels of energy in the blood can be moved on or eliminated.
Over a period of time the organs become overloaded with sugar and eventually they will refuse any further energy that insulin decides to send their way.
Why is This Bad? (The Scientific Explanation of Leptin & Ghrelin)
Your body will ultimately get used to this harmful process.
This means that your metabolism will use the excess amounts of sugar as its primary energy source and simply ignore the stores of fat built up in the body.
So, if your metabolism is “ignoring” the stores of fat in the body, they simply stay where they are.
Unfortunately, once your liver is filled with excess sugar it automatically converts it to saturated fats, which will form triglycerides to be transported through the bloodstream.
When we eat, the body produces leptin, which signals to the brain that we now have enough stored energy. After a while you’ll want to move in order to burn these calories – this is just the natural process of how the brain and body usually works.
However, the problem with having an excess of triglycerides and sugar in the body is that it starts to literally play with your brain.
Your body receives mixed messages from the brain. Sooner or later you’ll no longer “hear” these messages and unfortunately you won’t know when to stop eating (ghrelin again).
So, as you can see a lack of sleep can cause a chain reaction of harmful and unhealthy events in the brain and the body’s internal organs.
This has all sorts of connotations in terms of your overall health, and weight gain is simply one of these.
If you are currently struggling with your weight, but cannot work out exactly why, may I suggest that you look into your sleeping patterns first, and maybe even something as simple as light may influence how you sleep at night.
As absurd as it initially may sound, a lack of sleep certainly has a detrimental effect on our weight.