Sleep Loss and Weight Gain, the Undeniable Link

The Deep Connection Between Sleep Loss and Weight Gain

There is a direct connection between the number of hours you sleep a night and your appetite the following day- the less you sleep, the more you eat. Sleep plays a massive role in the body’s ability to regulate appetite, and without it, your entire system suffers. There is an undeniable link between sleep loss and weight gain.

Chronic sleep loss is a high-risk factor for obesity in all humans- men, women, and children alike. As our modern society continues to shorten nights with artificial lighting and busy schedules, people are losing an absurd amount of sleep. This, in turn, is causing a rise in appetite, and ultimately body fat. Understanding this close link between lack of sleep and food intake, people can begin to actively work towards a solution.

The Hunger Hormones and Sleep

There are two main hormones in the body responsible for controlling appetite- leptin, the appetite suppressant, and ghrelin, the appetite stimulant. The two work in tandem- if production of either hormone is out of sync, it will trigger an increase in appetite, causing people to overeat.

Sleep loss has this effect. Those who routinely sleep less than six hours at night are considered to have chronic sleep loss. Obtaining too few hours of shut-eye at night will cause an overproduction of ghrelin, the hungry hormone while suppressing leptin, which signals to us when we feel full and satisfied.

Decreased Sleep = Increased Appetite

Dr Eve Van Cauter at the University of Chicago followed a group of adults in a controlled setting and studied this relationship between sleep and food. Participants were given a room to sleep in, with a controlled level of physical activity and food intake per day.

For five nights individuals were allowed to sleep for 8.5 hours. The following five nights, they were only allowed 4 to 5 hours of sleep. Throughout the study, Van Cauter monitored the participants and recorded their sense of hunger, as well as their leptin and ghrelin levels.

With the completion of the study, the evidence was clear. In the five days that followed limited sleep times, participants noted a deeper feeling of hunger, craving more food than the days following a full 8 hours of sleep. At fault were the hunger hormones- leptin and ghrelin.

When sleep decreased, so did the levels of the appetite suppressant leptin. In turn, the body increased production of the appetite stimulant, ghrelin. It was a case of double jeopardy- individuals were being punished twice for the one crime of sleep loss, resulting in an insatiable drive to eat more.

Cravings and Your Waistline

Van Cauter decided to take this study one step further to see how much more food sleep-deprived individuals may eat as recompense for lost rest. This time, participants were allowed 8 hours of sleep for the first four nights, and 4 hours of sleep for the following four nights.

Again, physical activity was controlled, but individuals were given free rein of a food buffet daily. Researchers focused on the caloric intake of the food. On the days following restricted sleep time, participants were eating over 300 extra calories versus their consumption on the days where they achieved a full night’s rest.

Extrapolate this number into the span of a year, and individuals could end up eating over 70,000 extra calories due to chronic sleep loss. Under-sleeping can, therefore, add 10 to 15 pounds to your waistline per year. Not only will your waist line suffer, but your whole body will feel these effects. Persistent poor quality sleep can ultimately lead to Type 2 Diabetes.

Not only does the body crave more food when less sleep is obtained, but the food cravings themselves change in nature too. These studies illustrated that when an individual was sleep-deprived, they sought out sugary and sweet foods, heavy carbohydrates, and salty snacks. These cravings increased by up to 40% in individuals compared to when they obtained a healthy amount of sleep.

Curb Your Cravings

By achieving a full night’s rest, at least 7 or 8 hours of shut-eye, individuals can help curb these cravings, while the hungry hormones, leptin and ghrelin, stabilize. 

Of course, there are always other underlying factors when it comes to weight gain and body mass. But the effects of sleep, or lack thereof, are undeniably connected to the body’s ability to regulate appetite and cravings.

By obtaining enough sleep every night, you are more likely to keep caloric intake in check. Therefore, a proper nights sleep should be part of any weight loss plan.

To learn more about the foods you should and should not put into your body before bed time, check out The Best and Worst Foods for Sleep.