Could More Sleep Help You Lose Weight?
If you’re counting calories but can’t seem to shake your extra weight, it may be because you’re not getting enough sleep. If you’re staying up late, you may be putting in up to 300 extra calories a day compared to your counterparts that are in bed by nine. Staying up late also causes you to be tired the next day. And if you’re feeling fatigued during the work day, you may reach for sugary treats that can give you an immediate energy rush but can ultimately leave you feeling more tired later on. All of these extra calories may cause you to put on more pounds than you intended. The Sleep Doctor, Dr. Michael Breus, shows us how getting enough sleep can help you avoid those extra pounds.
Sleep is a powerful tool for weight management. Getting sufficient sleep—for most of us that means sleeping 7 to 8 hours a night—can help keep your appetite in check, curb cravings, and reduce late-night noshing. The problem is that you just aren’t getting that much sleep on a regular basis. And sleep deficiency can make controlling weight much more difficult.
A comprehensive new review of research related to sleep and weight gives some perspective on what we’ve learned about the complicated relationship between the two. Researchers examined studies from the past 15 years on the possible influence of partial sleep deprivation and weight control. They emerged with a broad consensus: partial sleep deprivation appears to have a significant impact on weight—how easily it is gained, lost, and maintained. Partial sleep deprivation, in this case, is defined as sleeping fewer than six hours per night. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that nearly one-third of working adults in the U.S. are sleeping no more than 6 hours per night, an indication of just how broadly a lack of sleep may be contributing to our culture’s problems with weight.
The review also revealed consensus among multiple studies about some of the ways that sleep can influence weight. Partial sleep deprivation disrupts the normal levels of two hormones that are critical to regulating hunger and appetite: ghrelin and leptin. Both play a big role in the sleep-weight connection. Studies show that even mild and short-term sleep deprivation can result in imbalances in these hormones that govern appetite.
Ghrelin is a fast-acting hormone, produced in cells of the stomach, which spurs appetite and drives you to eat. Ghrelin may particularly increase appetite for high-calorie foods. There’s evidence that ghrelin may also direct fat towards the midsection of the body, where it is most dangerous to your health. When the body is deprived of sleep, production of ghrelin increases. Research shows that even a single night of sleep deprivation can elevate ghrelin levels—and appetite.
Leptin is a hormone that suppresses appetite by communicating to receptors in the brain that the body has the energy it needs to function, and doesn’t need to take on more. Leptin is produced in white fat cells throughout the body. The amount of fat in the body, then, influences the amount of leptin produced. When leptin levels are lower than normal, we’re less likely to feel full after eating. Food also appears more enticing to people with low leptin levels, according to research. Low sleep suppresses leptin production, making you more likely to feel ongoing pangs of hunger. Even short-term sleep deprivation has been shown to reduce leptin levels.
With these hormonal imbalances at work, it’s little surprise that sleep-deprived people are more likely to gain weight and to have difficulty maintaining a healthy weight. More than a third of adults in the United States are obese, as are 17 percent of children, according to the CDC. Obesity, with its increased risks for many serious health problems—including diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and some types of cancer—is arguably our nation’s leading public health problem. A recent study by the CDC projects that half of all adults in the US will be obese by the year 2030. Our collective weight problem endangers millions of lives and costs billions of dollars.
Insufficient sleep is strongly linked to obesity and metabolic disorders, as well as, diabetes but researchers are still working to understand the underlying mechanisms by which sleep can influence weight. A recent study examined the effects of insufficient sleep on weight gain, and looked specifically at energy intake (calories in) and energy expenditure (calories out). Researchers investigated the effects of sleep on these two critical factors in weight management. What did they find? During periods of insufficient sleep, people increased their calorie consumption and as a result gained weight. What’s more, people who slept too little consumed more of their calories later in the day, which may further contribute to weight gain. Another study of mice found that alterations to a circadian-linked gene involved in hunger regulation caused the mice to become obese. Disruptions to this “clock gene” also altered the timing of the mice’s eating, causing them to consume more calories during the period normally reserved for rest.
The challenge of maintaining a healthy weight is a daily endeavor, made up of many small choices—What to eat? How much? When? —that over time have a powerful cumulative effect. A strong routine of sufficient nightly sleep can aid in this endeavor, helping your body and mind work at its best, every day, for weight control and overall health. So remember, to lose more, you want to sleep more!