Can Poor Sleep Habits Make You Fat?
For many years…centuries, even…it was believed that two major players controlled the weight gain/loss game: Nutrition and activity level.
But the more we have grown to understand about the body, it has become clear that many other factors influence weight as well, including genetics, stress, and socioeconomic status. Research is also starting to show just how big of an impact sleep has on both weight and metabolism.
Studies show that people who regularly sleep less than seven hours per night are more likely to have higher body mass indexes and develop obesity compared to those who sleep longer.1
Another more recent study examined the effects of irregular sleep on obesity risk in both adults and children.
A total of 199 participants (71 adults and 128 children) took questionnaires that asked about sleep and eating habits.
Both quality and quantity of sleep represented major risk factors for obesity: “Adults and children that sleep less, have an increase in obesity and overweight risk with dysfunctional eating behaviors, decreased physical activity, and metabolic changes.”2
What exactly is it about lack of sleep that causes these changes in eating and metabolism?
Out-of-Control HormonesWhen you don’t get enough sleep, various hormones in the body get totally out of whack.
Some of the most important when it comes to weight are the hunger hormones.
An interesting study out of the Mayo Clinic followed 17 people for a week, monitoring everything they ate and how many calories they burned. Half the participants maintained their usual sleep schedule, while the rest got only 2/3 of their typical sleep.
The sleep-deprived people ate an average of 549 more calories than normal, but burned no more calories than the well-rested group. Those excess calories day-in and day-out can lead to an extra pound of fat gained every week! By contrast, the group that slept more ate 143 fewer calories.
In addition, the sleep-deprived people had higher levels of leptin (the appetite-suppressing hormone) and lower levels of ghrelin (the appetite-stimulating hormone). This seems counter-intuitive. But the researchers believed this was most likely an outcome of being awake more hours, and thus eating more during the day.3
This is compounded by the fact that lack of sleep can lead to loss of impulse control and making unhealthier food choices.
Lack of shuteye also raises the amount of free fatty acids (FFAs) in the body. FFAs are fats that have been broken down, taken out of your fat cells, bound to protein, then transported through the bloodstream.
Abnormally high FFAs can increase risk of various health concerns, including obesity, endothelial dysfunction (which raises risk of cardiovascular disease), and diabetes.4
Getting a Handle on SleepSo, along with keeping your nutrition in check and exercising regularly, getting plenty of sleep every night has proven to a top defense against obesity.
With the hustle and bustle of modern life, it is understandable why sleep becomes less of a priority. But establishing a bedtime routine can go a long way in promoting good overall health and weight.
Here’s how you can create a regular nighttime schedule, encourage relaxation in the evening hours, and maintain a comfortable sleep environment…
- Stick to a consistent sleep/wake schedule, even on weekends. This helps regulate your body’s internal clock.
- Limit your exposure to light (TV, lamps, computers, etc.) as you approach your bedtime. When you awaken, expose yourself to bright light as soon as possible. This also helps with setting your internal clock.
- Cover or remove any electronics with bright lights, such as your alarm clock, cable box, nightlight, etc. Consider using blackout curtains and/or an eye mask as well.
- Eliminate noise and other disturbances. You may want to use ear plugs, a white noise machine, or fan to drown out any outside commotion.
- Several hours before you go to bed, avoid caffeine, alcohol, and tobacco, all of which interfere with sleep.
- If you’re tired, go to bed, regardless of what time it is. Don’t fight to stay awake.
- Exercise every day, but not within a few hours of going to bed.
If these lifestyle changes don’t help enough, you may benefit from a natural sleep aid.
- Melatonin is a top recommendation. This hormone, naturally produced by the brain, regulates your sleep/wake cycle. Start by taking 1 mg just before bedtime. If you need more, you can take up to 3 mg per day.
- GABA. Gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA) is an amino acid acts as a calming neurotransmitter. It reduces stress and anxiety and promotes a sense of calm.
- L-theanine is another amino acid. Not only is it involved in the production of GABA, it helps soothe and quiet the mind so that you can more easily fall and stay asleep.
Magnolia bark stimulates the production of GABA as well. At least one compound in magnolia bark has been shown to be as effective as diazepams (Valium, etc.) in calming anxiety and inducing sleep.
You can find all of these at your local health food store or pharmacy. Or, you can try a product specifically formulated for sleep. Newport Natural Health’s Sleep Solution Plus contains these and other helpful compounds to help soothe your mind and gently lull you to sleep.
If you need additional support, valerian, lemon balm, and chamomile are known to promote relaxation. Look for tea made with these herbs and sip half an hour before retiring for the night.
Finally, if you find that your appetite is a little out of control due to poor sleep or some other reason, you might want to consider trying a natural appetite suppressant like Complete Appetite Control. This product contains cravings-blockers like the amino acid L-phenylalanine, as well as vitamin C for immune support and vitamin B5, which converts your food into energy.
In closing, the importance of sleep cannot be overestimated. If it’s not already a priority for you, take the steps outlined here to make it one.
- Cooper C, et al. Sleep Deprivation and Obesity in Adults: A Brief Narrative Review. BMJ Open Sport Exerc Med. 2018;4(1):e000392.
- Bonanno L, et al. Assessment of sleep and obesity in adults and children. Medicine (Baltimore). 2019 Nov;98(46):e17642.
Broussard JL, et al. Sleep restriction increases free fatty acids in healthy men. Diabetologia. 2015 Apr;58(4):791-8.