Does Lack of Sleep Cause Weight Gain?
Master Your Sleep to Avoid Weight Gain
When you want to lose weight, the default responses are usually to eat less or work out more. This solution makes sense. After all, the rule of thumb when it comes to weight loss is to expend more calories than you take in. But you might be overlooking one other factor that’s affecting your weight: sleep.
Lack of sleep can cause weight gain and he world has been losing sleep since the pandemic has had it in an armlock. An August 2020 study from the University of Southampton revealed that insomnia cases in the United Kingdom grew from one in six to one in four, with mothers, essential workers, and BAME groups. Similar statistics can be seen all over the globe. In 2020, the word “insomnia” had the highest Google search rate ever.
Sleeping challenges during the pandemic are called “coronasomnia.” According to the Sleep Foundation, coronasomnia—likewise with other types of insomnia—is triggered by anxiety. With the health, economic, personal, and social stress caused by COVID-19, it’s essentially a recipe to keep you up at night. A doctor Abinav Singh sums up these reasons in an acronym: FED UP (Financial stress, Emotional stress, Distance from others, Unpredictability, and Professional Concerns).
Coronasomnia symptoms include increased tension, difficulty falling and keeping asleep, intrusive thoughts from anxiety and depression, delayed sleep schedules, as well as the consequences of having little to no nighttime sleep.
Does Lack of Sleep Cause Weight Gain?
The correct answer is yes. The fast explanation is that lack of sleep will lead to a lack of energy. Then, the lack of energy will lead you to overcompensate with food. While this rationale is simplistic, it makes a valid point.
According to “the Impact of Sleep Deprivation on Food Desire in the Human Brain,” physical evidence shows a link between sleep loss and obesity. Based on the 2013 study, sleep deprivation significantly diminished activity in the brain’s appetitive evaluation regions. Meanwhile, it boosts excess subcortical responsiveness in the amygdala. Moreover, researchers concluded that the sleep-deprived brain had a preference for high-calorie foods.
A 2004 study in PLOS Medicine corroborates these findings. After surveying 1,024 participants, researchers noticed that those with short sleep reduced leptin, a hormone that makes you feel full. It also increases ghrelin, the hormone that controls hunger.
Based on a Harvard School of Public Health article, beyond the physiological effect of the lack of sleep, more waking time also means more eating time. Significant research also shows that children with poor sleep patterns showed a higher likelihood of obesity.
What Number of Sleep Hours Causes Obesity?
Picking up on the sleep research on children, one British study that assessed over 8,000 kids from birth learned that those who slept fewer than 10.5 hours a night before they were three had a 45% chance of becoming obese when they turn seven. While there is proof that this issue can extend to adulthood, experts warn that numerous factors cause obesity, including genetics and medical conditions.
The oft-quoted Nurses’ Health Study, which followed 68,000 middle-aged American women for 16 years also reveals that women who slept fewer than five hours increased the likelihood of obesity by 15%.
Below is a sleep guide per age based on recommendations by the Sleep Foundation:
RECOMMENDED HOURS OF SLEEP
Newborn (0-3 months)
Infant (4-11 months)
Toddler (1-2 years old)
Preschool (3-5 years old)
School-Age (6-13 years old)
Teen (14-17 years old)
Young Adult (18-25 years old)
Adult (26-64 years old)
Older Adult (65 or older)
Note that these are just suggestions. There is no magic number when it comes to how many hours of sleep you should be getting. Moreover, a 2019 study in Nature journal showed that quality counts just as much as quantity. Based on the findings, five straight hours of good sleep is better than eight hours of interrupted sleep.
Can Changing Your Sleep Schedule Make You Gain Weight?
The time of sleep counts just as much as the number. For example, you can’t physically compensate for staying up all night by sleeping all day. While you can nap, the quality of daytime sleep just isn’t as restorative. Firstly, it messes up your circadian rhythm.
The circadian rhythm, or the body clock, is essentially how your body functions on a 24-hour cycle. The light during the daytime keeps your brain awake. Nightfall triggers the production of melatonin, which promotes and maintains quality sleep.
Moreover, when you pull an all-nighter, you might be prompted to take a nap throughout the day, which may initiate a poor sleep cycle. This reinforces the fact that lack of sleep can cause weight gain.
A 2020 study from Diabetology & Metabolic Syndrome showed that while night-shift workers had higher income, they also had higher weight, body mass index, and abdominal circumference compared to day-shifters. Similarly, a study on Japanese workers who slept fewer than six hours a night developed poor meal patterns and an inclination for snacks.
The Nurses’ Health Study also noted that women who worked rotating night shifts suffered a bigger risk of developing diabetes and obesity.
Let’s be practical here. You will be pulling all-nighters during a hectic session at work, and you will be anxious on some days, pandemic or not. Your neighbour’s dog may bark all night. Just try not to make a habit of keeping awake at night. Make sure that despite these lapses, be responsible for picking up your cycle again. If you must nap, keep it at 30 minutes or less—ideally before 4 p.m. It will give you enough energy to get through the day without compromising your night’s sleep.
What Can You Do to Help You Sleep Better?
Sleep is a natural, physical function, but that doesn’t mean it comes naturally. Many factors can affect or jeopardise your sleep. It is your responsibility to make sure you budget your sleep well with proper habits.
Watch what you eat throughout the day.
According to a 2005 to 2016 study in Nutrients, the lack of key nutrients calcium, magnesium, and vitamins A, C, D, E, and K can lead to poor slumber. Further research also notes that high carbohydrate diets can make you drowsy but cause interrupted sleep. Meanwhile, research has shown that plant-based diets encourage enhanced sleep quality.
Get enough exercise within the day.
Johns Hopkins University states that there is sufficient evidence to believe that a minimum 30-minute moderate exercise increases the amount of slow-wave or deep sleep, which is the type of sleep needed for the body to rejuvenate. Moreover, exercise has been known to release hormones and neurotransmitters that can relax and improve your mood.
That said, you must take into account the timing of your exercise. Working out too near your bedtime can keep your brain overly active and not calm enough to sleep.
Take care of your mental health.
These days, mental health is the top culprit behind poor sleep. While it’s normal to feel uncomfortable and uncertain given the world context, find ways to release your stress before bedtime. Exercise is an ideal outlet because the endorphins, dopamine, and serotonin can counteract depressed feelings from the lockdown. You can also adopt a hobby or create a routine.
Set a deadline for your gadgets.
According to a study in the British Medical Journal, daytime and bedtime use of electronic devices lead to increased risk of short sleep and sleep deficiency, as well as long sleep onset latency, which is the time it takes for you to fall asleep.
Unfortunately, with working from home and online schooling, exposure to blue light from laptops and smartphones are unavoidable. Apart from shutting down your gadgets at least two hours before your bedtime, try using blue-light-blocking glasses or screens. Also, opt for dark mode on your phones.
Consult a doctor if your sleep issues are getting worse.
If your lack of sleep is becoming chronic or debilitating, best to check with a specialist. There may be some underlying conditions that are causing your bad sleep.
Check for an overall lifestyle change.
Diet, exercise, sleep—these are the three components of a healthy lifestyle. They’re also all interconnected. Proper sleep means signing up for exercise and a balanced diet. If you want to start a holistic fitness journey, check out BodySlims and our many success stories.
This 10-week programme doesn’t just start you up on weights and veggies. It understands that the key to committing a healthier lifestyle starts with the mind. When you’re mentally in it for the long haul, the diet and the working out follow.
BodySlims has two 10-week weight loss programmes available. Both offer personalised calorie-controlled diet plans, 11 hours of seminars with the Weight Whisperer, start-of-day motivational videos, deep relaxation techniques, and more. One programme even comes with a personal coach.
Don’t just aim for better sleep. Aim for a better life.