Up to 70 million Americans deal with sleep-related problems. Of these people, over 50 million already suffer from one (or more) of 80 different sleep disorders.
The thing is, too little sleep, even for just one night, can already affect your mood and mental faculties. Aside from lethargy and irritability, it can also impair your driving ability. In fact, experts say that driver drowsiness accounts for 7% of all vehicle accidents in the US.
But that’s not all. Numerous studies have found a link between lack of sleep and weight gain.
All those sleepless nights could be sabotaging your waistline. It could make you gain those extra pounds that can ultimately affect your overall health.
The question now is, how exactly does lack of sleep cause weight gain? What does it do the body that can contribute to all those digits showing up on your bathroom scale?
We’ll answer all these burning questions in this post, so be sure to keep reading!
Sleep Deprivation Can Increase Your Cravings for Late-Night Snacks
Your body burns calories continuously, whether your active, awake, or asleep. Even if you’re only sitting late at night, you still go through 60 to 130 calories every hour. So, it’s not surprising that you’ll feel hungry at some point while working late at night.
But because you’re not asleep when you should be, you’re capable of acting upon hunger pangs. You can respond to those rumbling calls of your tummy and by going straight to the kitchen.
The thing is, sleep deprivation can dull your decision-making abilities. This can lead to you making impulsive eating decisions, such as eating a couple (or more) slices of pizza. Or by feasting away on sugary, high-carb foods.
Insufficient Sleep Can Intensify Your Hunger for Fatty and Sugary Foods
Scientists found that sleep loss amplifies a chemical eating-related process. They noted how lack of sleep boosts the “joys” one experiences from eating. Especially when that food is high in fat, sugar, or sodium.
The study’s participants who lacked sleep also opted for food with 50% more calories. Worse, they chose snacks that contained twice as much fat.
Too Little Sleep Can Drive You to Eat Bigger Meals
Another link between too little sleep and weight gain is a higher risk of binge eating. Lack of sleep appears to affect the amygdala, a part of the brain that can boost the desire to eat more.
So, your sleep-deprived brain may end up telling you to eat more than a proper meal portion. You’ll feel the need to consume more food, even if you’re already full. And if you keep doing this every day, then you can expect those bathroom scale digits to go up too.
The Hormonal Connection Between Lack of Sleep and Weight Gain
Insufficient sleep can also change certain appetite-related hormones in the body. At the moment, there are two known hormones affected by lack of sleep.
First is leptin, also known as the “satiety” hormone. Two of its main functions is to inhibit hunger and maintain proper energy balance. This keeps the body from triggering hunger responses when it doesn’t require energy.
A low leptin level, however, activates and hyperdrives the body’s appetite responses. This also amplifies food cravings, increasing one’s risk of binge-eating. All these can then result in dreaded weight gain.
The other hormone that lack of sleep affects is ghrelin, also known as the “hunger hormone”. Too little sleep appears to cause a considerable increase in the levels of this hormone.
As its “nickname” implies, one of ghrelin’s many functions is to stimulate the appetite. It also promotes the storage of fat while also telling the body that it needs to eat more. In fact, administering ghrelin increases one’s energy intake (through) food by up to 30%.
What then is the connection between these hormones and sleep deprivation?
A long-term study found that lack of sleep causes a huge reduction in leptin. At the same time, it causes ghrelin levels to shoot up.
The researchers noted that sleeping less than five hours reduced leptin levels by 16%. Sleep-deprived individuals also had 15% more ghrelin than their well-rested counterparts.
You’ll Feel Too Tired to Cook and Eat a Proper, Nutritious Meal
When you haven’t had a good night of sleep, your body slows down and you feel tired, lethargic even. To the point that you’d rather eat take-away food than prepare your own meals.
And while eating restaurant food from time to time is fine, nine in 10 of them contain too many calories. In fact, the average restaurant meal contains 1,205 calories. That’s twice more than the 500-calorie meal that you need!
So, if you eat even only one of these meals every day, aside from two other meals, you consume 500 or more extra calories. That can quickly add up, especially if you don’t burn it with daily exercise.
Poor Sleep Makes Your Body Retain Salt
Researchers have long since noted that lack of sleep leads to salt retention. This can then lead to increased water retention, which can show up as extra pounds on the scale.
More than that, high-salt diets also have a connection to greater body fat. After all, most foods that contain a lot of salt are also high in fat and calories. Think chips, fried food, processed goods, and yes, even restaurant meals.
And as mentioned above, these foods are often the go-to of people who lack sleep.
Stopping Weight Gain Starts with Getting More Sleep
There you have it, everything science has to say that proves the link between lack of sleep and weight gain. The bottom line is, sleeping too little – even for just a few days — can drive your weight up. But what’s worse is that it puts you at risk of more health problems, including diabetes and obesity.
That’s why, as early as now, you should aim to get at least seven hours of sleep every day. The sooner you start sleeping better, the sooner you can keep those pounds from adding up.
Ready to get your sleep routine back on track? Then make sure you check out our guide on how to get more sleep!