Can less sleep lead to weight gain?

Contributing columnistJuly 18, 2014 

The National Sleep Foundation reports that at least 40 million Americans suffer from more than 70 different sleep disorders and feeling tired isn't the only repercussion of lack of sleep.

While most sleep disorders go undiagnosed and untreated, adults who suffer from lack of sleep need to be aware of how their sleeping patterns affect their weight.

A typical adult needs between seven and eight hours of uninterrupted sleep per night. While no two people are the same on how much sleep they need, very few people can function well on less than seven hours of sleep. Signs of excess sleepiness include falling asleep while watching TV, having trouble driving and feeling lethargic throughout the day.

There are three major things that sleep does to affect a person's weight. The first involves the hormones that control our appetite. Leptin and ghrelin are the "hunger hormones" in an individual's body. Leptin, the hormone that decreases appetite, is decreased during sleep deprivation, while ghrelin, the hormone that increases appetite, is increased during sleep deprivation A lack of sleep doesn't allow leptin and ghrelin to function properly, resulting in an imbalanced hormone level and increased appetite.

Sleep patterns can also change the type of food that we want. When we're sleep deprived, we typically lean towards eating carb-rich and salty foods. In addition to eating those types of foods, we decide to pick up fast food or skip the gym out of convenience since we're running low on energy. A combination of those things can result in increased weight.

Lastly, a lack of sleep causes dysfunction in the body's glucose metabolism. During a normal night of sleep, a person's body is able to metabolize glucose consumed the day prior. Without a full night's sleep, our glucose tolerance goes down, so the body's ability to use glucose and its sensitivity to insulin are both affected. The extra glucose in our body is stored as fat, and over time can lead to Type 2 Diabetes.

To increase chances for a good night's rest, it is recommended that people keep to a regular sleeping schedule, even on the weekends. This means getting up and going to bed around the same time each night even if one is tempted to sleep in. Additionally, people shouldn't eat or drink caffeine six hours before bed, and minimize daily use of it.

Other tips include not smoking, especially near bedtime, avoiding alcohol and heavy meals before sleep, getting regular exercise and minimizing noise around bedtime. Lastly, it's important to avoid backlit screens, like computers and phones, two hours before bed. Those screens inhibit the body's melatonin, which is the body's natural chemical that allows you to fall asleep.

For individuals who still suffer from not getting enough sleep, it's important to discuss those concerns with a physician. Not only can lack of sleep be debilitating to everyday daily tasks such as work, driving or something as simple as making dinner, sleep affects every part of your body. Resetting your body by proper sleep is key to an overall healthy lifestyle.

Dr. Pell Ann Wardrop is with Saint Joseph Sleep Wellness Center, part of KentuckyOne Health.

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