Health Tips

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Does a Lack of Sleep Cause Weight Gain?

Improve memory, reduce stress, sharpen attention, lengthen years of life... As if there weren't enough reasons to catch those Zzz's each night, sleep proves to have a large impact on weight!


Lacking nutrients and exercise are well-known risk factors for weight gain. However, a lack of sleep can cause individuals to gain weight.

Learn the link between sleep and weight gain and how to overcome poor sleep (and lose weight) once and for all!

Sleep and Weight Gain

The number one health problem America continues to rise, as 1 in 3 Americans are considered overweight or obese. This subsequently increases the risk and diagnosis of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and other chronic conditions.

Such statistics are often contributed to eating a poor diet and living a sedentary lifestyle. However, there is another lifestyle factor that should not be slept on...

The National Sleep Foundation recommends seven to nine hours of sleep nightly, though the average American sleeps an average of six. Research shows individuals who lose out on sleep are more likely to gain weight.

Ultimately, the link between sleep deprivation and weight gain may be related to the following factors.

Unregulated Hunger Hormones
Sleep deprivation can disturb the efficiency of hunger hormones, also known as ghrelin and leptin. Working together to control appetite, ghrelin stimulates hunger while leptin helps to induce satiety. But if they become unregulated, leptin reduces and ghrelin increases, ultimately growing the risk of excessive food intake.

Research in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition found sleep-deprived individuals burn equal calories as those who are well-rested. However, they have a net gain of 385 calories per day. Considering it takes about 3,500 calories to gain a pound, it could take less than one month to gain three. (Or 36 pounds in just one year!)

Exacerbated Emotions
Following a restless night, you may ride the rollercoaster of emotions, waving the sensitivities of irritability, agitation, and sadness. While not all individuals resort to food, some individuals experiencing such feelings turn to food as a comfort mechanism.

Simply stated, sleep loss intensifies emotions which may trigger bouts of emotional eating. And unfortunately, foods desired and craved tend to be rich in carb and sugar.

Low Energy Levels
When feeling tired and dealing with low energy, you run the risk of skipping out on a workout. Additionally, low energy levels may justify a high-sugar snack or caffeinated beverage for a quick "pick-me-up."

And unfortunately, continuing or resorting back to a sedentary lifestyle, along with eating more, inevitably causes weight gain.

More Time Awake
There may be only so much one can take until deciding to no longer lie sleeplessly in bed. And between bouts of restlessness and frustration, there is a greater opportunity to hop out of bed and into the kitchen.

Tips to Fall Asleep

If struggling to fall asleep, try implementing these tips:

1. Stick to a sleep schedule and stick to regular sleep and wake times, including on the weekends. To set an appropriate bedtime, think what time is needed to wake up then subtract seven to nine hours of sleep. Need to be awake at 6:30 a.m. and require an average of 15 to 30 minutes to fall asleep? Ideally be in bed around 10:30 p.m.

2. Practice a relaxing bedtime ritual. This may include listening to music, reading a book, and taking a warm bath.

3. Avoid daily naps if having difficulty falling asleep at night. If deciding to nap, stick to 20 minutes.

4. Though caffeine can offer that energy jolt to start the day, too much can disrupt sleep cycles come bedtime. Keep caffeine intake in the morning hours and give up its intake in the afternoon and evening. But beyond coffee, caffeinated products include soft drinks, energy drinks, tea, and chocolate.

5. Include at least 30 minutes of physical activity most days of the week. Incorporate both cardio and strength training to also improve fitness levels.

6. Make sure the bedroom is conducive to sleep. This includes generating a cool climate, shutting off all lights, and turning off all noise distractions.

7. Sleep with a comfortable mattress and pillows. Make sure they free of any allergens and have not exceeded its life expectancy of nine to 10 years.

8. Become exposed to bright light in the morning and limit it at night. Doing so helps to keep circadian rhythms in check. Also turn off all electronics that emit blue light. These include the television, cell phone, and computers.

9. Avoid alcohol and cigarettes in the evening, as they can disrupt sleep. Yes, a glass of wine may induce feelings of tiredness. However, alcohol interferes with natural sleep cycles and can be quite damaging in the long run and disrupt quality sleep altogether.

10. Also avoid eating large meals for at least two to three hours leading up to bedtime. Try one of these healthy bedtime snacks if still hungry to relieve nighttime hunger pangs.

11. Use the bed for sleep, keeping work materials, computers, etc. out of the sleeping environment.

12. Do not hesitate to speak to a primary care doctor or sleep specialist if still having difficulty falling asleep. A number of health conditions that may impede on sleep quantity and quality, including obesity, sleep apnea, and arthritis. Certain medications may also have a negative impact on sleep cycles.

A healthcare professional can help treat the underlying conditions to promote better, restful sleep. They can also recommend safe products for better sleep, including melatonin supplements.

Healthy Sleeping Tips. National Sleep Foundation.

Written By Sydney Lappe, MS, RDN. Published on November 07, 2012. Updated on April 18, 2019.


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