Regina is a health and wellness writer with over 3 years of experience. Some publications she's written for include Thrive Global and HWM.
Is Sleep Important to Weight Loss?
Staying up all night might not be as fun as it seems, especially if you're trying to lose weight. The sad reality is that sleep affects weight loss and food choices. And the less you have of it, the more you're going to eat.
It's also noteworthy to mention that eating healthy and working out every day is not enough. Good sleeping habits matter. Otherwise? you'll end up craving comfort food and skipping exercising—more on that below.
There are also studies that have confirmed how lack of sleep may lead to weight gain. And before developing further, let's talk about two hormones first: ghrelin and leptin.
What Are Ghrelin And Leptin?
There are two hormones directly affected by lack of sleep. They are ghrelin (the hunger hormone), and leptin (the hormone that suppresses hunger).
Also known as the hunger hormone or lenomorelin, it is produced and secreted by the gut on an empty stomach. After that, ghrelin enters the bloodstream and travels to the brain.
The hypothalamus—a part of your brain that manages your hormones and appetite—receives the signals sent by this hormone. So, in other words, ghrelin's work is to signal the hypothalamus that you need food.
Ghrelin is vital for your body because it regulates calorie intake and body fat levels. Making you eat more food, take more calories in, and store fat.
This hormone is sensible to sleep and diets. So every time you’re sleep-deprived, ghrelin levels are high. The same happens when you go on a diet because that’s how your body tries to prevent starvation.
Now, add lack of sleep plus a weight loss plan, and the result is a recipe for disaster.
So, don't forget that:
- Sleep deprivation = high ghrelin levels = increased appetite.
- In summary, low ghrelin levels are beneficial for weight loss.
Leptin, or the satiety hormone, is the one who signals the hypothalamus and tells it about:
- Food Intake. Leptin lets the hypothalamus know that your body has enough fat stored, so there’s no need to keep eating. In other words, it regulates satiety levels and tells your body when to stop.
- Calories Burned. It tells the hypothalamus how many calories your body must burn during the day.
Leptin’s main function is to regulate body weight. It comes from fat cells and because of that, leptin levels are completely dependent on someone’s body fat. That means leptin increases or decreases when someone gains or loses weight.
In short, leptin prevents excessive eating by inhibiting hunger and balancing calories. Please note that when leptin levels are down, the brain takes it as fat loss, so it sends hunger cues to your body.
Some reasons why leptin levels go down include bad sleep, weight loss, and obesity. So, the next time you don’t get enough rest, think about how leptin decreases while ghrelin increases.
Can Lack of Sleep Lead to Weight Gain?
If you're trying to lose weight but love pulling all-nighters every other day, I've got news for you. Lack of sleep can lead to weight gain and puts stress on your body, which makes weight loss a difficult task.
Sleep deprivation is one of the worst things that can ever happen to a weight loss plan. And when you don't sleep 7–10 hours daily, your metabolism doesn't function accurately.
A study by researchers from the University of Colorado shows how lack of sleep makes you gain weight. Participants only had 5 hours of sleep for a week. And as a result, they all gained 2 pounds. Yes, you read that right, in only a week, they gained weight.
Now imagine the consequences of being sleep deprived for months.
Another study, this time from the University of Chicago, found a link between eCB and lack of sleep. eCB or the endocannabinoid system regulates stress responsitivity, appetite, and the reward circuit.
During the study, participants eat more calories than usual and had a tendency for junk food. Researchers concluded that high eCB levels trigger the desire to eat comfort food.
Lack of sleep makes it difficult for your brain to make smart and consistent decisions about food. It also changes the types of food the brain craves, being sugary and fatty foods the default choice.
So, can lack of sleep lead to weight gain? Yes, it creates hormonal changes in the parts of your brain that regulate hunger and appetite. Besides, leptin (suppresses hunger) goes down while ghrelin (the hunger hormone) goes up.
How Lack of Sleep Can Lead to Weight Gain
- Since the brain has trouble choosing the right foods for you, the likelihood of eating junk food is high.
- Due to the hormonal changes, you're prone to eating more unhealthy snacks at night.
- Your reward circuit also changes and it makes you crave sugary and fatty foods.
- Someone short on sleep isn’t able to control natural desires for unhealthy foods. In other words, you're more likely to eat whatever your brain tells you to.
How to Get More Sleep
Now that you know how lack of sleep can lead to weight gain, here are some tips to get a good night's sleep.
- Avoid caffeine: I know you have heard this one before, but you need to avoid caffeine at least 6 hours before going to bed. That includes green tea too!
- Be consistent: Consistency is crucial to get more sleep, and you can practice it by waking up at the same time every day. I know it’s hard in the beginning, but not impossible.
- Make your bedroom sleep-friendly: For some, sleeping in a pitch-black bedroom is awful, while others love it. The same happens with temperature and other bedroom elements. What I'm trying to say is that you should adjust your bedroom to your liking.
- Don't exercise right before going to bed: I made this mistake years ago, and I couldn’t sleep until four am. Please don't do it, at least not within two hours of bedtime.
- Keep your phone away: Notice if your phone affects your sleeping patterns, and if so, keep it out of the equation.
- Try not to eat dinner within two hours of bedtime: After eating an entire meal, digestion begins, and it may take up to three hours to feel sleepy again.
I know it’s hard in the beginning, but hey, so is everything else outside of your comfort zone. Good luck!
- Ghrelin: The "Hunger Hormone" Explained: https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/ghrelin
- What is Leptin? : https://www.hormone.org/your-health-and-hormones/glands-and-hormones-a-to-z/hormones/leptin
- Less sleep leads to more eating and more weight gain, according to new CU-Boulder study: https://www.colorado.edu/today/2013/03/11/less-sleep-leads-more-eating-and-more-weight-gain-according-new-cu-boulder-study
- Molecular ties between lack of sleep and weight gain: https://www.nih.gov/news-events/nih-research-matters/molecular-ties-between-lack-sleep-weight-gain
- Why lack of sleep is bad for your health: https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/sleep-and-tiredness/why-lack-of-sleep-is-bad-for-your-health/
- 10 Things to Hate About Sleep Loss: https://www.webmd.com/sleep-disorders/features/10-results-sleep-loss
- What to know about sleep deprivation: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/307334#causes
- Congenital leptin deficiency: https://medlineplus.gov/genetics/condition/congenital-leptin-deficiency/
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
© 2021 Regina King