Poor sleep and weight gain?

Ever notice how hungry you feel when you don’t get enough sleep? Did you know that when we are sleep-deprived we eat more because we are actually hungrier? Yes, it’s true. Chronic sleep loss disrupts the body’s endocrine system by triggering increased insulin resistance and a disruption of appetite regulating hormones. Lack of sleep leads to a rise in ghrelin, the hormone that turns on hunger and a restriction in leptin, the hormone that makes you feel full. And since we are awake longer hours and are often sedentary in that extra waking time we consume more calories than we burn. The result–weight gain.

Mounting evidence suggests that lack of sleep has multiple effects that can all result in weight gain. When our internal clock is disrupted, it may throw of many bodily functions including metabolism, hormonal balance, brain chemistry, cognitive function and immunity. Chronic sleep deprivation may lead to irritability, anxiety and depression—all contributors to emotional eating.

According to a 2006 study of over 68,000 women from the Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, women who slept less than five hours a night were 32 percent more likely to gain 33 pounds or more over the 16-year study period than women who slept at least seven hours a night. The bottom line: the more you sleep, the better your body can regulate the chemicals that control hunger, fullness and fat storage.

Sleep is often the first thing we give up when we are short on time. With increasing stress, intense deadlines and 24/7 connectivity via cell phones and the internet, it seems there just aren’t enough hours in the day. And yet, adequate sleep is one of the most important aspects of weight maintenance and good health.

So, just how much sleep do we need? While there are no hard and fast rules and individual needs may vary, the National Sleep Foundation recommends that most adults get seven to nine hours of sleep per night. The amount of sleep you need may be more or less—it’s the amount you need to feel rested, refreshed and alert.

You can make sleep (and weight loss) a higher priority by improving your sleep habits with the following strategies:

Work with your circadian rhythms. While most of us can’t go to bed when the sun is setting, we can aim to go to bed as early as possible, set a bed time we can adhere to and begin calming down and dimming lights to aid our bodies sleep-producing hormonal system.
Maintain a quiet, dark and comfortable environment for restful sleep. Consider black-out shades if the room has too much light.
Reduce your consumption of stimulants such as caffeine, chocolate and nicotine early in the day.
Notice if certain foods, vitamins, medications and alcohol affect your getting a restful night’s sleep and adjust if need be.
Adjust habits such as exercising late in the day or stimulating activity in the evening if you are having difficulty getting quality sleep.
Try journaling during the day or early in the evening to reduce overwhelm and anxiety. Put to paper feelings and thoughts that are troubling, even if they are chronic. Remind yourself you can think of them tomorrow and that you have control over you mind.
Try natural sleep aids such as Valerian root and herbal teas and
Consult your health-care practitioner if you are experiencing chronic insomnia, which can be the result of a medical or psychological illness.

Just like eating, sleep is a natural, life-sustaining process. Try to make sleep a priority and schedule it just like you would any other activity. Otherwise, the sleep you lose may lead to the pounds you gain.

Posted by Julie M. Simon, MA, MBA, MFT.  If you have a question or topic you would like to see addressed in this blog, go to http: //www.overeatingrecovery.com.

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