If losing a few pounds is one of your goals in 2018, the best place to start could actually be your bed, rather than the gym or your diet. Did you know when you lose sleep you can gain weight?
“But how and why can I gain weight from lack of sleep?”
There are lots of factors, which come together to affect our appetite and weight gain. The first is changes to the ratio of hormones that control hunger – Leptin (the hormone that produces the feeling of fullness), and Ghrelin (which creates the sensation of hunger). Inadequate sleep decreases levels of leptin and increases levels of Ghrelin. As a result, not only is the ‘I am full’ signal removed following eating but also the ‘I am still hungry’ signal is being fired instead. Therefore, if you don’t have enough sleep you simply don’t feel satisfied by food and you end up wanting to eat more.
What’s more, lack of sleep activates the ‘endocannabinoid system’, which are basically chemicals produced in the body that are similar to the drug cannabis. This system is involved in reward or ‘pleasure’ eating i.e. it gives us the ‘munchies’. This system stimulates us to eat more sweet food (chocolate, biscuits and cakes), heavy carbs (pasta and bread) and salty snacks (crisps and chips) and is why we tend to eat more of the wrong foods when we are sleep deprived. Fatty foods and proteins are stimulated to a much lower degree.
“So, if I sleep I won’t get hungry?”
Yes, the good news is that when you get enough sleep (typically between 7 and 9 hours for an adult) it takes away the cravings and your hormone balance comes back to normal.
With regards to weight loss and sleep it would seem getting enough sleep is important here too. In one study, when overweight Individuals were split into two groups of good and poor sleep (5.5 hours) and put on a restricted diet, the group with poor sleep lost 70% of their weight from lean muscle mass, yet those who slept well had over 50% of weight loss from body fat. When we lack sleep, it would seem our body wants to hang onto its main energy store of body fat.
In summary lack of sleep therefore makes us hungrier, makes us eat more of the wrong foods, yet decreases the satisfaction of eating these foods and also prevents effective weight loss when dieting. I.e. “lose sleep, gain weight, gain sleep…lose weight!”
My top tip
Apart from making a commitment to sleep more in 2018 and go to the gym (exercise is associated with increased sleep quality) I recommend…eating a varied diet!
In specific a diet that has a higher percentage of fresh rather than processed foods.
In fact, a recent study showed that difficulty maintaining sleep was associated with fewer foods in the diet, with daytime sleepiness and less none restorative sleep being associated with being on a restricted diet, such as low fat/cholesterol. It would seem that getting the correct balance of sleep, nutrition and exercise all support each other as pillars to good health and feed into the best possible outcome all round in terms of optimum health.