Increased levels of a hunger hormone from 14 Ways Lack of Sleep is Causing Weight Gain

14 Ways Lack of Sleep is Causing Weight Gain

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Science has confirmed time and again that fewer hours of quality shut-eye affects your waistline. Sleep deprivation affects the brain in a way that makes you want to eat more and not process food efficiently. It sparks a vicious cycle where you are left feeling tired, slowing your metabolism and playing tricks with your hormones.

All of this leads to you eating more, and the rotation continues, Deborah Malkoff-Cohen, registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator, says. “By sleeping less, you are programming your body to eat more,” she adds.

An estimated 18 million Americans have sleep apnea, which is often associated with people who are overweight, according to the National Sleep Foundation. "As the person gains weight, especially in the trunk and neck area, the risk of sleep-disordered breathing increases due to compromised respiratory function," say Margaret Moline, PhD, and Lauren Broch, PhD, two sleep specialists at New York Weill Cornell Medical Center.

Feeling lethargic leads to poor food choices, other studies have found – you eat more junk food, fewer vegetables and fruits, and drink more soda. Fatigue is often confused as a sign of hunger. You end up consuming a lot more calories, but don’t burn them by exercising because you feel too tired. The result can be about two extra pounds a month.

So next time you wonder why you’re not seeing the results of your healthy eating and workout habits, be mindful of your sleep patterns. Do you get just about five hours in bed every night,  or do you stay up for late night snacking?

Increased levels of a hunger hormone


Research has shown the connection between short sleep duration and elevated levels of ghrelin, which is commonly known as the “hunger hormone.” Levels of ghrelin are high and you have bigger appetite, Malkoff-Cohen says. That’s why increased Body Mass Index (BMI) has been observed in people who didn’t sleep enough, she adds. How much is enough varies with every person but experts say a good night’s sleep lasts between seven and eight hours.

Eat about 300 more calories a day


Research has shown that sleep-deprived participants burn the same number of calories as those who are well-rested, but sleepy people eat about 300 more calories a day. Considering that takes only 3,500 calories to add a pound to your waistline, it’s not a surprise you can gain a lot of weight in a short period of time.

Snack more


It’s hard to resist snacks when you’re tired. Your body has no energy and thinks you’re hungry. Science says getting less sleep than needed makes the body produce higher peaks of endocannabinoid, a lipid in the bloodstream that’s responsible for making eating feel so much more enjoyable.

Exercise less


This is pretty clear – you sleep less, you feel more tired and you don’t work out, Malkoff-Cohen says. The more sleep-deprived you are, the more lethargic you feel, and the less you will exercise. Going back to a sedentary lifestyle will inevitably result in weight gain, especially if you’re eating more. Studies have shown clear evidence that low levels of physical activity are associated with an increased risk of weight gain and obesity.

Eat more carbs


Failing to sleep enough hours can lead to eating more, but research has also shown that tired people tend to reach for foods that are high on bad carbs. “You are just looking for something to feel better,” Malkoff-Cohen says. There is a higher carbohydrate content (65 percent), especially if you’re eating after 7 p.m. The bad news is that carbohydrate-based meals result in a significant shortening of sleep onset latency in healthy sleepers, continuing the cycle.

Little sleep also plays havoc with fat cells

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If you’re on little sleep, the fat cells’ ability to react properly to insulin (the hormone that regulates energy storage) decreases by 30 percent.  Such chronic disruption could cause weight gain, type 2 diabetes and other health problems, according to a study. In storage mode, fat cells remove fatty acids and lipids from the circulation where they can damage other tissues. When fat cells cannot respond effectively to insulin, lipids leak out into circulating blood, leading to serious complications, according to researchers.

Hypothalamus is activated


The hypothalamus is an area of the brain responsible for producing much of the body’s hormones, including those regulating sleep and hunger. Orexin, a neuropeptide that regulates arousal, wakefulness, and appetite, is produced, telling the body it’s not full yet and causing you to eat beyond satiety.

Less leptin, more food consumption


When you’re tired because of sleep deprivation, the levels of leptin — which suppresses appetite and stimulates energy expenditure — are altered, Malkoff-Cohen says. Lower levels mean bigger appetite. The regulation of leptin, released by the fat cells, is dependent on sleep duration, according to MedScape.

Slower metabolism


“Lack of sleep has been linked to diabetes,” Malkoff-Cohen says, “which shows a slow in metabolism.”

Chronic sleep loss can reduce the capacity of even young adults to perform basic metabolic functions such as processing and storing carbohydrates or regulating hormone secretion, according to a study. "We found that the metabolic and endocrine changes resulting from a significant sleep debt mimic many of the hallmarks of aging," said Eve Van Cauter, Ph.D., professor of medicine at the University of Chicago and director of the study.

Junk food cravings


Sleepless nights have a direct impact on areas of the brain that regulate decision making processes, making us crave French fries as opposed to Greek yogurt and strawberries. “What we have discovered is that high-level brain regions required for complex judgments and decisions become blunted by a lack of sleep, while more primal brain structures that control motivation and desire are amplified,” says Matthew Walker, a UC Berkeley professor of psychology and neuroscience and senior author of the study.

Higher levels or stress hormone increase appetite


Does “stress eating” sound familiar? Sleep deprivation put a lot of stress on the body, Malkoff-Cohen says, causing to release cortisol, known as the stress hormone. Cortisol is a steroid hormone, she adds, that can make you hungry. It’s also released as a response to low blood glucose.

No motivation to diet and exercise


When sleep apnea leads to daytime sleepiness, it may be that much harder to begin or sustain an exercise program or eat right, which has been shown to help people begin or maintain weight loss, according to the National Sleep Foundation.

You eat less fruits and vegetables


Food choices are significantly associated with sleep duration, research shows. Short sleepers tend to drink less water and eat fewer fruits and vegetables than people who have normal and consistent sleep patterns. Sleep-deprived people eat fewer foods that are high in important vitamins and minerals.

Drink more soft drinks


When you’re sleepy, you need more energy. This is where caffeine comes to the rescue. However, instead of eating dark chocolate or drinking tea, much healthier choices, people often reach for carbonated beverages. They come with a lot of sugar, which only leads to more junk food and sugar cravings.