We’re all unique, and different things will affect the way we gain and retain weight, but most people will experience weight fluctuations with poor sleep. Meanwhile, individuals who have a great sleeping pattern find it easier to control their weight. This is an important fact to remember when starting on any diet.
Across the Western world, obesity rates continue to climb, while sleep times have reduced in recent years. Although we shouldn’t get too ahead of ourselves with this connection, it’s still an interesting topic to explore. Is there some cause and effect between the two?
Weight Gain and Sleep Deprivation
For people who have been sleep-deprived, the condition may cause poor concentration, irritability, and a general lack of energy. However, it also affects weight gain through four different hormones;
- Cortisol - As a stress hormone, cortisol is in control of conserving energy and using fat reserves as fuel during the day.
- Insulin - Regulating the process of turning food into energy, insulin is a peptide hormone.
- Ghrelin - Telling the brain when the body needs to eat, ghrelin is often called the ‘hunger hormone’.
- Leptin - Often called the ‘satiety hormone’, leptin’s job is to inform the brain when no more food is necessary.
When the body and mind lack sleep, leptin production decreases while ghrelin production increases. Ultimately, this means the brain thinks we’re hungry even when we’re full; With this, higher blood sugar levels follow leading to the increased production of cortisol and insulin. Over time, our body loses its ability to process sugars and fats as it should because of the increased insulin resistance. Therefore, more gets stored as fat and we gain weight.
Lack of Self-Control
Sadly, people who lack sleep are also more likely to fail at new diet plans because there’s no self-control. Posted in the Journal of Clinical Nutrition, a study from 2008 showed that high-carb snacks and late-night eating are more common in people who are sleep deprived.
What’s more, there was a 2013 study in Appetite that showed increased calorie consumption in participants who achieved less than five hours of sleep. Across the average day, subjects also consumed more carbs and less water. In terms of the cravings that follow sleep deprivation, some researchers believe them to be as strong as those experienced after marijuana use.
When we’re sleep-deprived, we’re more likely to;
- Crave fat-rich foods
- Crave lots of carbs
- Eat larger portions
- Snack late in the evening
The problem doesn’t end here because the tiredness that comes with sleep deprivation reduces our energy levels. After a night of little sleep, the last thing we want to do is put our trainers on and head to the gym. So, all those extra calories we consume aren’t burned away through any sort of notable exercise.
What does all this mean? When we lack sleep, we’re more likely to gain weight, we don’t exercise, and the negative spiral is hard to escape. In order to maintain a healthy weight, good sleep is ESSENTIAL; typically between 7 and 8 hours for the average adult.
Insomnia and Weight
Brought on by physical and emotional factors, we perhaps commonly draw links between anxiety/stress and insomnia. As we worry about our weight, there’s a risk of depression which is a co-morbid condition with insomnia (they exist together and contribute to one another). When we’re stressed about anything in life or anxious in some way, it’s much harder to fall asleep.
For those with anorexia, bulimia, or another eating disorder, insomnia is also a common problem. Especially for people who take weight loss drugs or diet pills, the sleep-disrupting ingredients found in such products cause all sorts of sleep-related problems; examples of such ingredients include guarana and caffeine.
People who attempt to lose weight by reducing calorie intake, are likely to consume more caffeine in order to boost energy levels. Of course, it can possibly result in extra energy even when you’re lying in bed and trying to sleep.
When it comes to insomnia, behaviors, habits and thought processes play a significant role. Therefore, it makes sense that behavioral therapy is one of the more popular insomnia treatment methods. However, when insomnia is caused by a physical problem (such as sleep apnea or obesity), this condition needs to be treated first in order to then treat insomnia.
When an emotional condition is to blame, doctors may recommend to stay away from late-night snacking and high-caloric intake, incorporate relaxation techniques before bed and introduce a strict bedtime schedule. For extra help, melatonin is a good sleep aid for insomnia.
Does insomnia ever have the opposite effect? Yes, some people with insomnia may lose weight but this is normally a result of increased physical activity during the day; at some point, the extent of physical activity will counter the impact of sleep deprivation.
Some people find themselves sleeping late and getting up late. It’s important to note that this doesn’t necessarily mean that one is sleep-deprived. According to Northwestern Medicine researchers, however, late sleepers tend to have a poorer diet. They consume more calories later in the day and are more likely to drink soda, eat fast food, and avoid fruit and vegetables.
For late sleepers who have such a diet while avoiding exercise, some experts predict this lifestyle can add up to two pounds of weight gain per month. Plus, overeating at night energizes the body; this can lead to insomnia.
In the same study, the researchers also wanted to differentiate between calorie consumption and the time of day these calories were consumed. Since the circadian rhythms play an important role in regulating core body temperature, metabolism, organ function, hormone production, and the sleep-wake cycle, the timing of meals is pivotal.
Disrupted sleep is a problem because it affects the glucose levels which in turn increases the risk of metabolic syndrome. Today, metabolic syndrome is worryingly normal in Americans in their middle ages.
For somebody to be diagnosed with metabolic syndrome, they need to show at least two of the following symptoms;
- Insulin resistance
During the week, we lead busy lifestyles and it’s easy to accrue a sleep debt with the idea of recuperating at the weekend. Although this seems to make sense, it doesn’t exactly work this way and experts say that missing out on even 30 minutes of sleep per day can increase insulin resistance. If we continue this pattern, it leads to metabolic issues, obesity, and type 2 diabetes (as it was found in the 2015 study).
Just in case this information hasn’t scared you into action, allow us to go over two facts/statistics;
- The risk of metabolic syndrome is large in long sleepers just as much as in short sleepers
- The metabolic syndrome is TWICE as common in people who sleep between 6-7 hours compared to 7-8 hours
Some years ago, there was a study published in Sleep, a scientific journal, that said the metabolic syndrome is linked with signs like difficulty in falling asleep and loud snoring. The study suggested that sleep problems predicted the onset of the syndrome. Why? Because loud snoring leads to sleep fragmentation. In turn, this leads to weight increases, higher stress markers, and a response in the immune system.
Whenever our sleep is disturbed in some way, oxidative stress increases and this has the potential to cause weight gain. When we add weight, there’s always the risk of sleep apnea too. Again, this places further stress on the body and breaks up sleep even more.
Using Your Diet to Improve Sleep
There are many studies that suggest sleep is helped by losing weight. In one study, the following decreases were seen after weight loss surgery in obese participants;
- Daytime Fatigue - 39% to 4%
- Snoring - 82% to 14%
- Poor Sleep Quality - 39% to 2%
- Sleep Apnea - 33% to 2%
As mentioned previously, sleeping too long can be just as dangerous as not sleeping enough. Just like sleeping fewer than 6 hours, weight gain is common in those who sleep for more than 9 hours. If you really want to lose weight, we recommend sticking between 7 and 8 hours range.
In addition to weight gain, researchers have found the following risks to increase in people who over-sleep;
- Inflammation in the body
- Memory problems
- Body pain
- Anxiety and depression
- Mortality (all causes)
- Heart disease and stroke
Unfortunately, sleeping between 12 and 20 hours a day to avoid eating, brings a plethora of health concerns both in the short- and long-term. With such excessive sleep, the body doesn’t get the calories (fuel) it needs to operate, and every organ will deteriorate from the lungs to the heart, bones to the muscles.
What’s more, over-sleeping will affect the so-called biorhythms (bio clock). We’ve already seen how this biological clock controls cognitive function, immune systems, metabolism, and most other functions, so it’s important to keep this mechanism on track.
By sleeping between 7 and 8 hours, these systems are regulated effectively, and you even keep control of your libido and appetite. With a healthy sleep pattern, one can enjoy a balanced lifestyle both now and long into the future.
Dealing with Sleep Apnea
As a sleep-related breathing disorder, sleep apnea affects an estimated 18 million Americans every single year. While lighter cases lead to some heavy snoring, more serious cases of obstructive sleep apnea cause the individual to gasp for breath in the middle of the night. Whether mild or serious, the issue is commonly connected to heart attacks, stroke, obesity, and daytime fatigue.
Whenever we carry extra weight, we’re putting ourselves at risk of sleep apnea because of the added pressure on our airways. With so many overweight individuals affected, there tends to be less of an inclination to eat healthily and exercise regularly. Especially when the sleep apnea prevents quality sleep, it may lead to fatigue during the day and even less motivation to exercise or cook hearty meals. Instead, the sufferers are stuck in a negative spiral of poor sleep, low energy levels during the day, a lack of control, poor mood, and even frustrated partners.
After visiting a doctor, they might receive a CPAP machine which can reduce the symptoms and lead to nights of peaceful sleep. When sleep improves, all the symptoms we previously mentioned are lifted and it becomes easier to adjust the diet and exercise regime.
As well as potential equipment to assist breathing while sleeping, doctors may also suggest lifestyle changes. Most importantly, they’ll offer advice for weight loss. There are many studies that show a reduction in obstructive sleep apnea symptoms after weight loss.
Dieting: Paleo and Low Carb
Although you’re making an effort to become healthier, we should note that insomnia is possible when starting a low-carb or paleo diet. Don’t worry, your body will soon adjust to taking on fewer calories and the symptoms of insomnia should go away.
However, if you’ve started a new diet and insomnia continues for a number of weeks, you may need more carbs in your diet to aid sleep. Since carb-rich foods actually help the production of serotonin and tryptophan, which induce sleep onset, they’re a necessity for the release of melatonin and to reduce anxiety.
Elsewhere, we also need insulin to convert tryptophan into serotonin; carbs will aid the production of insulin more than any other food group. Don’t get us wrong, low-carb diets will certainly help with blood sugar levels and weight loss in the long-term. However, they can also shock our bodies in the early days. Suddenly, the body has to work hard to convert the tryptophan to serotonin disrupting our sleeping pattern in the process.
For those accustomed to eating lots of carbs and sugary foods, the best thing you can do is ease into a low-carb diet. Gradually reduce them in your diet over a period of several weeks. Don’t just starve your body instantly, give it time to adjust and increase the chances of sticking with this healthy change.
If your chosen diet still allows a certain amount of carbs, we recommend consuming them later in the day because this will help you get to sleep easier.
Before we let you get on with your day, we also want to talk about late-night toilet trips. Aren’t they frustrating while you’re trying to sleep? Well, they’re common with those who drink lots of water or move across to a liquid diet. Be careful with just how much water you drink throughout the day.
However, if you tend to get hungry before bed, there’s nothing wrong with a small, healthy snack because being hungry will likely keep you awake.
Finally, we’ve said it before, but we cannot understate the effect of caffeine and alcohol after a certain point in the day. Don’t over stimulate your body because it can make it harder to get to sleep at night.