Can Lack Of Sleep Cause Weight Gain?

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Sleep is turning out to be one of those ignored aspects of human physiology that is extremely important; maybe even more than diet and exercise. Recent studies proves that a lack of sleep is associated with many diseases like diabetes mellitus, hypertension, anxiety, coronary artery disease, and even increases the risk of neurodegenerative disorders.

But can a lack of sleep lead to weight gain?

Recent studies have proven that lack of sleep can lead to weight gain. A lack of sleep is associated with increased ghrelin and decreased leptin levels. Ghrelin is the hunger hormone and leptin is the satiety hormone. As a result, we overeat. Additionally, lack of sleep causes cravings for high-calorie foods.

Sleep is one of the most ignored aspects of human health, when in reality it should be given the utmost priority. Because the effects of lack of sleep develop slowly and over a long period, we don’t tend to even think that a lack of sleep could be a cause for them. 

A lack of sleep can lead to many health issues and even worsen any existing physical or mental health issues. For example, if you have anxiety, your anxiety will worsen if you don’t get enough sleep. Similarly, if you suffer from migraine, you will experience more episodes of migraine if you don’t get enough sleep. You, most likely, won’t even suspect that it’s the lack of sleep that is triggering your existing issues, because they don’t seem like they could be related to each other, but they are.

Weight gain is one such issue that is promoted due to lack of sleep. Additionally, if you are trying to lose weight, you are likely to face more difficulty losing weight— if you don’t consider improving your sleep.

A lack of sleep is proven to cause obesity in both children and adults.

How Lack Of Sleep Leads To Weight Gain?

There are a few different ways that are believed to be the cause of weight gain due to lack of sleep.

  • Lack of sleep is associated with increased release of ghrelin and reduced levels of leptin. Ghrelin is the hunger hormone— it induces hunger. Leptin, on the other hand, is the satiety hormone.As a combined effect, hunger goes up and satiety goes down— and we overeat. This results in weight gain.
  • Studies have shown that poor sleep is associated with choosing high calories food over healthy foods when compared to well-rested individuals.. As a result, you are more likely to make poor food choices and eat more high-calorie diets rich in simple carbohydrates (like food rich in sugar).
  • Lack of sleep also increases stress levels and our ability to handle stress. You are 4.7 times more likely to be stressed if you are sleep deprived. Stress is yet another factor that can lead to weight gain. You can read more about how stress causes weight here: Can stress cause weight gain?

When you don’t sleep well enough, you will wake up feeling tired. This will cause you to reach for caffeine— a lot of it. Caffeine is well-known for its sleep-preventing capabilities, and consuming too much caffeine during the day will only further disturb sleep at night. And this becomes a vicious cycle— a cycle that contributes to weight gain. 

Additionally, studies also prove that a lack of sleep makes it difficult to lose weight. So if you are currently trying to lose weight and not seeing the desired number change despite your best effort, poor sleep could be the cause..

How Much Should You Sleep?

How much one should sleep depends on your age group. 

As per the CDC, the recommended amount of sleep for different age groups is as follows:

Age-GroupRecommended Hours of Sleep As Per CDC
Newborn (0 to 3 months)14 to 17 hours/24 hrs
Infant (4 to 12 months)12 to 16 hours/24 hrs
Toddler (1 to 2 years)11 to 14 hours/24 hrs
Pre-school (3 to 5 years)10 to 13 hours/24 hrs
School age (6 to 12 years) 9 to 12 hours/ 24 hrs
Teen (13 to 18 years)8 to 10 hours/24 hrs
Adult (18 to 60 years)7 or more hours per night
Adult (61 to 64 years).7 to 9 hours per night
Adult (65 years and older)7 to 8 hours per night
How much you should sleep as per CDC

This is an overview of how much you should sleep each day. But, please keep in mind that good quality of sleep is equally important for good health. 

Various health conditions like insomnia and obstructive sleep apnoea can disrupt sleep and lead to a poor quality sleep. So if you have any sleep-related health issues, getting it diagnosed and treated would be your first step towards better sleep.

If you don’t have any health issues compromising your sleep, simple changes in your habits will help you get better sleep.

How To Know If You Are Getting Enough Sleep?

Some simple symptoms and behavioural changes will help you identify if you are getting enough sleep or not.

Signs you may not be getting enough sleep are:

  1. You have difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, or inability to sleep again if you wake up at night.
  2. Frequent nighttime awakening.
  3. Waking up feeling tired, or feeling like going back to sleep a couple of hours after waking up.
  4. You are reaching for more coffee/tea/energy drinks (i.e caffeine) than usual.
  5. You experience frequent headaches early in the morning.
  6. You are craving more sugar/carbohydrates than usual.
  7. You have difficulty focusing and concentrating.
  8. Your anxiety is getting worse or getting more frequent (in the absence of any other trigger/stress).
  9. You are experiencing more stress than usual (poor capability to handle stress).

Out of these, the first 3 points are more easily noticeable and will always be present, if you are not getting enough sleep.

How To Improve Sleep To Avoid Weight Gain?

It’s a no-brainer, what you need is to sleep better if you wish to avoid weight gain or if you want to support your weight loss. 

Now, there are a few things you could do to get better sleep.

1. Have A Sleep Schedule And Stick To It

As per the studies, not only the quantity and quality of sleep matter but also the variation in your sleep schedule contributes to weight gain. A fixed time for waking up and going to sleep is associated with lower body fat.

This means, if you don’t sleep at the same time and wake up at the same time every day, you are more likely to gain weight when compared to those who have a set schedule.

To counter this, you need to do the obvious— go to bed at the same time every day and wake up at the same time every day. You must stick to your timing if you wish to maintain a healthy weight for the long term.

2. Stop The Stimulating Activities A Couple Of Hours Prior

Start winding down a couple of hours before your sleep time. Avoid anything that can stimulate your mind and hamper sleep.

So, NO TV, computers, phone, too much movement/exercise, stimulating thoughts (including those related to work) and stimulating conversations with others, loud music, etc immediately before bedtime.

The blue light from the screens, the movements, and active thoughts related to your worries or work stimulate your mind and will keep you awake.

Therefore, you should consider doing activities that help your mind calm down a bit. Something like reading a book, journaling before bed, listening to soothing music, having a self-care routine before bed, dimming lights, etc will help promote good sleep.

3. Take A Soothing Bath Or Shower With Warm Water 2 Hours Before Bed 

Taking a warm water bath helps lower the core body temperature. A lowered body temperature helps you get better sleep.

A soothing shower also reduces sleep latency by 10 minutes, i.e. you will fall asleep faster.

This is especially helpful if you live in warmer regions and/or don’t have an air conditioner.

4. Avoid Coffee/Tea And Alcohol Before Bed 

Caffeine (taken as coffee/tea/energy drinks) remains for up to 10 hours in your system after consumption. If you consume caffeine in the evening, you will likely have difficulty falling asleep or you will have a poor quality of sleep.

Alcohol, on the other hand, is a beverage many people drink to induce sleep. However, this is far from reality. Consuming alcohol before bedtime can result in poor-quality sleep.

So, these are the basic essential change in habits around beverages you should consider for better sleep.

5. Avoid Meals Too Close To Bedtime

Studies say that meals close to bedtime (within 3 hours) cause frequent disruption of sleep at night.

Additionally, large meals at dinner are also associated with poor sleep.

Acid reflux, which is more common with large meals, is a known factor for sleep disruption at night as well.

So avoiding large meals and meals close to bedtime is another habit change that should be considered for better sleep. A healthy, light meal 3-4 hours before bedtime will help you get better sleep.

6. Get Any Sleep-Related Health Issues Treated

As long as you will have a health issue that is disturbing your sleep, you won’t be able to get good sleep.

So, if you have conditions like insomnia, sleep apnoea, restless leg syndrome, etc, the first step to good sleep would be to get these issues treated.

What You Need To Remember About Deficient Sleep And Weight Gain

If you are struggling to maintain a healthy weight or finding it difficult to lose weight despite your best efforts, poor sleep could be the reason.

Getting good sleep is essential to maintain our health, including a healthy weight. But it is one of those factors that gets the least priority a lot of the times.

Making an effort towards improving your sleep and ensuring that you are sleeping for at least 7-9 hours of good quality sleep will help you prevent weight gain and promote weight loss.

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2 thoughts on “Can Lack Of Sleep Cause Weight Gain?

  1. This is a very important topic. Lack of sleep disrupts many of our hormonal functions and can potentially lead to weight gain and decreased mental health. Very informative post.

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