When you’re short on sleep, it’s easy to lean on a large latte to get moving. You might be tempted to skip exercise (too tired), get takeout for dinner, and then turn in late because you’re uncomfortably full.
Yet experts agree that getting enough shut-eye is as important to health, well-being, and your weight as are diet and exercise.
There is a convincing link between sleep deprivation and weight gain. We frequently cross-refer patients between the weight management service and the sleep disorders unit.
Studies have found that sleeping less than six hours per day, for an adult who should normally be sleeping 7-8 hours, can produce physical changes that promote weight gain.
These changes are related to:
• The hormones ghrelin and leptin, which control appetite
• Modified brain activity, linked to higher odds of making unhealthy food choices
• Plain fatigue, which reduces the willingness to engage in physical activity
Sleep deprivation and changes in the Hormones
Appetite is regulated by two hormones, ghrelin and leptin. Ghrelin stimulates hunger while leptin tells you when you are satiated. Lack of sleep increases ghrelin levels, making you hungry, while leptin levels drop, lessening your ability to tell when you’ve eaten enough. The combined effects result in an expanding waistline.
Sleep deprivation has also been found to affect the body’s response to insulin, which can also cause a fall in the level of leptin, further dulling your satiety internal sensors.
Sleep deprivation and snacking on high-calorie foods
Sleep deprivation can cause changes in brain activity which can promote snacking on high-calorie and high-fat foods. A tired brain has been found to respond more strongly to foods rich in fats and carbohydrates. It just feels more “shiok” to eat junk food when you’re tired.
Additionally, a person who sleeps less has more hours to eat and make unhealthy food choices. Sleep-deprived people who were surrounded by delicious snacks tended to eat more of these than rested people, especially at night.
When we are tired, our brain just demands more calories than we need, and our ability to resist impulse may be blunted as well.
Sleep deprivation and a decrease in physical activity
Chronic lack of sleep has also been associated with reduced physical activity. This is because sleeping less than the normal 7-8 hours is likely to leave you feeling fatigued and less inclined to exercise. With this decrease in physical activity, you burn fewer calories which can lead to weight gain over time.
Studies have found that sleep-deprived people tend to spend more time in sedentary activities such as watching TV, and less time playing sports and being physically active.
Sleep deprivation and your dull appearance
Ever look in the mirror after a few nights of poor sleep and think your skin looks tired?
During sleep—particularly during deep, slow-wave sleep, the body produces more human growth hormone, or HGH, and goes to work repairing and refreshing cells throughout the body—including cells of the skin, muscles, and bone. Short on sleep, you risk losing out on this important rejuvenation—and it’s going to show in how you look and feel.
Sleep is critical to the health of your skin—and its youthful appearance. The boost in HGH is related to increases in the production of collagen, the protein that gives skin its elasticity and firmness and helps keep wrinkles at bay.
So how much sleep should we all be aiming for?
The National Sleep Foundation has given the following recommendations:
Age – Recommended Sleep Duration
- New-borns (0-3 months) – 14-17 Hour
- Infants (4-11 months) – 12-15 Hours
- Toddlers (1-2 years) – 11-14 Hours
- Pre-schoolers (3-5 years) – 10-13 Hours
- School-aged Children (6-13 years) – 9-11 Hours
- Teenagers (14-17 years) – 8-10 Hours
- Young adults and adults (18-64) – 7-9 Hours
- Older Adults (65+) – 7-8 Hours
Tricks and Tips for a Better Night’s Sleep
In today’s world, snoozing can be difficult, particularly when all your screens (computers, TVs, cell phones, tablets) lure you into staying up just a little longer.
The basics are pretty simple:
• Shut down your computer, cell phone, and TV at least an hour before you hit the sack.
• Save your bedroom for sleep and sex. Think relaxation and release, rather than work or entertainment.
• Create a bedtime ritual. It’s not the time to tackle big issues. Instead, take a warm bath, meditate, or read.
• Stick to a schedule, waking up and retiring at the same times every day, even on weekends.
• Watch what and when you eat. Avoid eating heavy meals and alcohol close to bedtime, which may cause heartburn and make it hard to fall asleep. And steer clear of soda, tea, coffee, and chocolate after 2 p.m. Caffeine can stay in your system for 5 to 6 hours.
• Turn out the lights. Darkness cues your body to release the natural sleep hormone melatonin, while light suppresses it.
Remember, when you’re sleep-deprived, you’re not just facing one of these issues: you’re more than likely grappling with all of them. Think about that the next time you’re tempted to shortchange your sleep because something else seems more important.