Although losing weight in your sleep is not as simple as it sounds, there is enough scientific evidence that links weight gain and sleep deprivation. Highly stressed or depressed individuals tend to suffer from insomnia, others are subject to sleep-related disorders, such as obstructive sleep apnea. For most healthy individuals the problem began after the invention of electricity, followed by industrialization, globalization, and our need to be everywhere 24-7. We have turned into a sleep-deprived society with many health consequences, weight gain is only one of them.
How do you gain weight with that? Our body has two hormones that regulate appetite: leptin and ghrelin. Leptin is created by the fat cells and sends a signal to the brain telling it we are full. Ghrelin, on the other hand, is mainly produced by our stomach and tells the brain, “feed me, I’m hungry!”
An experiment conducted on healthy young men tested the levels of these appetite-controlling hormones after 4 hrs of sleep for 6 nights. The result was a significant decrease of leptin and an increase of ghrelin in the blood. Bottom line, they were hungrier than when they had a whole night sleep.
Lack of sleep does not only make you hungrier, it makes you crave all the wrong things. The decision-making process is impaired after just one bad night of sleep.
Another study conducted by UC Berkeley measured the brain activity of sleep-deprived individuals under an MRI scan. The participants were presented with 80 food images ranging from healthy (fruits and vegetables) to unhealthy (high-calorie burgers and pizzas). The MRI scan showed that the brain opted for the unhealthy choices.
The good news is, the results from the studies were reversed after the individuals went back to the normal sleep pattern. It just shows, that if sleep deprivation is prolonged, the health effects could be permanent.
Start by adopting good sleep hygiene. Healthy individuals should sleep between 7 and 9 hours per night. Anything less and anything more can lead to undesired health consequences.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the National Heart, Lungs, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), recommend the following tips for getting a good night sleep:
The bedroom should be used strictly for sleeping, or sex if you have a partner. Avoid, laptops, mobile devices, television, even reading while in bed. The longer you are awake in bed, the more the body associates it with being awake, hence perpetuating a sleep problem.
Losing weight is not an easy task, but if you combine sleep hygiene with exercise and nutrition, you’ll have better chances at shedding off those extra pounds.