Sleep Deprivation and Weight Gain

Dominique W. Brooks
Weight gain

You may be surprised to find out that there is a correlation between sleep deprivation and weight gain. The less sleep you get, the more weight you will gain. But it also works in the other direction - the more weight you gain, the less sleep you may get. Several factors influence both parts of this equation. Usually, it's more than one factor that contributes to increased weight associated with sleeplessness, especially when you look at eating habits as well as physiological causes.

Behavioral Habits of the Deprived Sleeper

For some, the weight gain associated with loss of sleep comes from behavioral habits. These habits, which can be linked with a loss of sleep, contribute to extra daily calories and reduced caloric consumption.

Eating at Night

Throughout the day, you eat because you are hungry and your body is using up energy it receives from food. At night, if you don't sleep, you are using up energy just as you do during the day, which means you get hungry and chances are, you eat. This means that you are packing in many more calories than you would if you slept for at least six hours.

You are also less likely to eat healthy foods in the middle of the night. You probably don't want to start cooking a full meal; instead you choose easy to grab treats such as a bag of chips, candy, or ice cream. This means you will be eating more calories, as well as much more fat than you would have during the day.

Eating to Stay Awake During the Day

Deprived sleepers also are tired during the day and often eat to fight the urge to take a nap. Again, these foods may not be the healthiest and can contribute extra calories too. This can also contribute to weight gain.

Decreased Physical Activity

When you eat during the night, chances are, you aren't working to use up those extra calories. You are most likely trying to fall asleep lying in bed or watching TV on the couch. Being tired may also cause you to decrease your physical activity level which can also lead to weight gain.

Physiological Factors in Sleep-Deprived Weight Gain

There are other reasons why sleep deprivation is associated with weight gain. This isn't a problem that is soley due to behavioral choices.

Metabolic Changes

When you don't get enough sleep, your body doesn't have a chance to restore itself. This means that your bodily functions start to slow down, including your metabolism. Your metabolism is responsible for speeding up the process of food out of your system. The slower it is, the more your body hangs on to unneeded calories and fat.

Malfunctioning Fat Cells

A recent study also suggested that fat cells in the body need sleep to function properly and even short amounts of time without sleep can lead to these cells not working properly. This can also lead to weight gain and diabetes.

Hormonal Changes

The lack of sleep also changes the balance of hormones in your body, especially ghrelin and leptin. Ghrelin spurs you to eat, and leptin tells you when to stop. When you are sleep-deprived, your body creates more ghrelin and less leptin; this leads to more eating, additional calories, and extra weight gain.

Sleep Apnea and Weight Gain

People who are overweight are more likely to suffer from a serious illness called sleep apnea. Sleep apnea patients wake up many times during the night, often without realizing, frequently due to a blocked airway. The airway is often blocked by the excess tissue around the neck and throat region, which is common in overweight people.

In this situation, being overweight can lead to sleep apnea. What is also important to point out is that doctors have determined that those that are suffering from sleep apnea are also prone to weight gain. Because these patients also suffer from sleep deprivation, the weight gain may be due to similar reasons like changes in the levels of the hormones leptin and ghrelin, changes in metabolism, and lower levels of physical activity.

Managing Weight When Dealing with a Sleep Disorder

Just because you have a sleep disorder, doesn't mean you need to gain weight. Similarly, gaining weight doesn't have to interfere with your sleep. There are many ways you can take charge of your situation.

What You Can Do

If you have a sleep disorder that causes sleep deprivation, there are things you can do to make sure your weight gain doesn't get out of control:

  • Keep your hands busy by doing something that doesn't allow you to eat.
  • Set an eating timer by commiting to a time to stop eating each day.
  • Keep junk food out of the house.
  • Have healthy food ready.
  • Drink plenty of water.

Another way to deal with weight gain associated with sleep problems is to manage your sleep deprivation. The treatments for sleep deprivation depend on the underlying cause of the condition. Improving your sleep hygiene can be a first step. Better sleep hygiene can help you increase your sleep time; however, if lifestyle changes do not improve your symptoms, you may need assistance from a physician.

Getting Outside Help

A sleep specialist will probably be needed if you have long-standing sleep deprivation that did not improve with lifestyle changes. Conditions like sleep apnea or other sleep disorders may not change without a specialist's help.

Your primary care provider may also be able to help manage your weight gain through dietary changes. If you have more significant metabolic changes like insulin resistance or diabetes, you may need a diabetes specialist or an endocrinologist to treat your condition.

Beating Sleep Deprivation Weight Gain

Even if you don't eat at night, your body still is unable to process food as efficiently when you are without sleep. However, you can take measures to counteract the weight gain and to improve your sleep. Remember to eat sensibly and rest as much as possible until you are able to get the sleep you so desperately need.

Sleep Deprivation and Weight Gain