Lack Of Sleep And Weight Gain: Is There A Connection?

By:    Published: October 25, 2012

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You may be surprised to learn that not getting an adequate amount of sleep each night can cause you to gain weight. People gain weight in many different ways, and lack of sleep can lead to weight gain for a variety of reasons. While one night of restless sleep isn’t likely to pack on the pounds, repeated sleepless nights in conjunction with other behaviors will put you at risk for weight gain over time. Recent studies support the claim that poor sleep can lead to excess weight gain. If you are having difficulty sleeping, know the risks and take steps to improve your nightly slumber.

How Much Sleep Does the Average Person Need?

The appropriate amount of sleep needed is dependent upon several factors, most predominantly age. Many people feel as though just a few hours of sleep is enough to get them through the day, however, this is usually not the case. People who are not getting an adequate amount of sleep for consecutive nights will not have mental sharpness and alertness. Suggested sleep guidelines according to age are:

  • Approximately 15 hours for infants
  • Approximately 13 hours for toddlers
  • Approximately 10 hours for school-aged children
  • Approximately 8 hours for adults

[Related: The Five Stages Of Sleep]

Who Might Need Additional Sleep?

While the above-mentioned sleep guidelines are meant for the average person, there may be contributing factors that will increase a person’s need for additional sleep. An individual’s nightly sleep requirement is likely to increase due to the following circumstances:

  • Pregnancy: When a woman is pregnant, her body goes through many changes. These changes will likely increase her body’s need for sleep, thus adding the need for a few additional hours of sleep above the average amount.
  • Aging: As the body grows older, an individual’s sleeping habits will likely change. The person who once slept like a log may find himself waking frequently during the night and becoming a very light sleeper. These changes will increase the older adults need for sleep and possibly the need for a daytime nap.
  • Sleep deprivation: The longer your body goes without sleep, the more difficult it may be to play catch up. If you are experiencing sleep deprivation over a series of nights, your body’s need for sleep will increase, thus increasing your average sleep requirement.
  • Quality of sleep: Regardless of how many hours of sleep you receive, the quality of sleep you are getting is just as, if not more important. If your sleep is frequently interrupted and you experience night waking, you will need to get more than the average number of hours of sleep.

[Related: Sleep Positions During Pregnancy]

Can Lack Of Sleep Cause Weight Gain?

According to the New York Obesity Nutrition Research Center at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital, the answer is – yes. Lack of sleep can cause weight gain, and does so in a variety of ways. Additionally, a new study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine suggests that a few nights of bad sleep can cause an otherwise healthy body to become insulin resistant. Weight gain can occur for a variety of reasons, including:

  • A lack of adequate sleep may cause the body’s metabolism to become sluggish because it is trying to conserve energy. A slower metabolism results in the body releasing cortisol, a hormone that is responsible for triggering hunger. This lack of energy forces the body to crave an energy source, namely food.
  • Insulin resistance is the pathway to obesity and diabetes. This study suggested that a mere four consecutive nights of sleep lasting just 4 hours each could alter the body’s resistance to insulin. In a typically healthy person, when sugar in ingested, the pancreas responds by producing insulin and signaling the body’s cells to absorb the newly ingested glucose. When insulin resistance is present, the cells do not receive the signals and thus do not properly absorb the glucose, causing health problems.

Factors That Contribute To Lack Of Sleep And Weight Gain

Aside from insulin resistance and a sluggish metabolism, a lack of adequate sleep may cause you to gain weight for other reasons. Not getting enough sleep can cause you to not only gain weight, but also have difficulty taking the weight off. Lack of sleep can affect weight in the following ways:

  • The less sleep that you get, the less energy your body will use to burn calories.
  • The later that you stay up at night, the more likely you are to snack late at night.
  • Lack of sleep results in an increase in production of the hormone Ghrelin. This hormone is responsible for appetite, fat production and body growth. The less you sleep, the more hungry you become.
  • The less sleep that you get, the harder it is to burn fat.
  • The less you sleep, the more opportunity you have to eat.

What Can You Do To Improve Sleep?

Many factors can contribute to a less than stellar nights sleep. While we may not be able to control all of the things that can interfere with our sleep, we may be able to come up with an effective sleep plan. Using guidelines to attempt to achieve a better night’s sleep can be an effective way to set you on the path to improved sleep. Tips for a better quality of sleep include:

  • Try to get to bed at the same time each night. Setting your body on a sleep-wake schedule is a great way to ensure that you are getting an adequate night’s sleep, even on your days off.
  • Don’t go to bed hungry or full. The discomfort and restlessness that is associated with hunger or feeling stuffed can interfere with your sleep.
  • Beware of ingesting caffeine or nicotine just before bed. These drugs are stimulants and may prevent you from falling asleep.
  • Avoid drinking alcohol. While it may tend to make you sleepy at first, it may disrupt your sleep during the night.
  • Choose a routine that will help you to wind down. Whether it’s reading or taking a bath, creating a bedtime routine may help ease you to sleep.
  • Be sure that you are comfortable. Choose a pillow and blanket that is soothing to you and adjust the room’s temperature and lighting for optimal sleeping.

[See: 6 Tips To Sleeping Better At Night]

Lack of sleep can affect your body’s ability to maintain a healthy weight, lose weight and put you at risk for a variety of health problems. If you are having trouble falling asleep or remaining asleep, try creating a bedtime routine and follow the suggested guidelines above. If you are still having sleeping difficulties or find yourself feeling tired even after receiving a full night of sleep, it is important to contact your doctor.

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