Sleep And Weight Loss- Not Enough Sleep Makes You Gain Weight
In this day and age, not sleeping is seen not only as an admirable trait but as a noble requirement for anyone aspiring towards any degree of financial success. Compared to years past Americans sleep far less than they ever did with twenty percent of the population reportedly getting less than six hours of sleep a night. That’s one in five in the realm of being chronically sleep deprived while the rest of the nation isn’t doing that much better with the number of people reportedly getting less than eight hours of sleep increasing drastically as the years go by. Contrast this with a century ago when the US national average was around 9-10 hours of sleep per night! A dream for most by today’s standards (pardon the pun) as that is far beyond what any average member of the society gets today. This overall reduction in sleep time unfortunately applies not only to adults, but to children as well. There are so many more stimuli in our lives that stealthily rob us of our precious time in bed. Television and the internet play a major role in making both children and adult lives stay up longer but our increased work times are also significant. In a sense we have sacrificed sleep for increased productivity. Working more and becoming a nation of robot like machines fueled by coffee and the caffeinated energy drink of the day. What is overlooked in this equation is the effect of sleep deprivation not only on our overall health but as a contributing factor to the increased numbers of overweight American adults and children. Numerous studies have found that not enough sleep can make you gain weight and experience has shown that it can also seriously sabotage your weight loss efforts!
Second only to casual alcohol consumption, the common denominator among my clients who had difficulty losing weight over the past twenty years has been sleep deprivation. Not only was lack of sleep a physiological barrier to them losing weight as easily as others who were eating well and sleeping normally, but it also appeared to be a behavioral obstacle- as those who stayed up longer tended to consume more calories and were more likely to eat more junk food at the end of the day. It is very much a vicious cycle as eating significant amounts of food late at night makes it physically harder for you to fall asleep, affects your sleep quality and reduces how long you can stay asleep. (See our article on Night Eating Syndrome) In this article we will take a look at the insidious role of sleep deprivation in making us fatter and how the very demands of the modern workplace may be working against your health and your waistline.
When sleep deprivation studies on laboratory animals were first carried out researchers confirmed what most of us would think to be true – namely that sleep deprived animals would suffer a decrease in overall body weight over time.2, 3. However numerous epidemiological studies with humans show quite the opposite effect- that humans tend to gain weight as a result of sleep deprivation.[3,4,5,6,7] A explanation of this phenomenon may come as a consequence of human sleep deprivation in the real world occurring because of alterations between periods of restricted sleep followed by periods of increased sleep. A chronic pattern that mirrors our five day work week during which most sleep far less than optimal times followed by weekends where many attempt to make up for sleep lost during the week. A study conducted by researchers at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands set out to model human conditions of chronic sleep restriction by having male rats endure 5 day periods of sleep deprivation followed by a 2 day period of sleep allowance. There was also a control group of rats who were consistently sleep deprived. In the first few weeks there was some loss of body mass in the sleep deprived rats, but in the following weeks there were two incredibly important changes that were observed:
The first was a significant increase in food intake on days that the rats were sleep deprived.
The second finding was an increase in weight gain during the weekends where the rats were allowed to sleep for regular periods of time.
What is fascinating about the weight gain is that the food intake during those days was not notably different from the food intakes of the sleep deprived rats in the control group who lost weight during the period eating the same amount of food.
Sleep Deprivation and Hormones- How Lack Of Sleep Affect Hormones That Make Us Gain Weight
There is without question no shortage of well controlled studies of both humans and animals that underline the fact that the chronic partial sleep loss that has become the benchmark of our times may increase your risk of obesity. Research has shown that there are marked changes in metabolism and endocrine function as a result of sleep deprivation in both adults and children.[4,7]
Sleep restriction plays a major role in affecting us hormonally, namely by:
- Decreasing glucose tolerance- which not only can lead to weight gain but an increased risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease 
- Increasing insulin sensitivity- insulin resistance is a precondition to diabetes and is recognized as a contributing factor to obesity and weight gain. Interestingly enough, caffeine used to offset the effects of inadequate sleep also plays a role in increasing insulin resistance as well.[9, 10,11,12]
- Increased concentrations of the stress hormone cortisol later in the day- which can work to suppress your immune system and increase susceptibility to disease.[13,14] Note however that there is no science to support the popular theory that cortisol causes weight gain- as this is simply another form of misinformation used to sell weight loss products of questionable efficacy.
- Increased levels of ghrelin– Ghrelin is an important hormone that stimulates our appetite and desire to eat which can in turn lead to overeating and consequent weight gain when concentrations are high. (See my article on how ghrelin affects our appetite here)
- Decreased levels of leptin– acting contrary to the effects of ghrelin, leptin serves to inhibit our appetite and tell us when we should stop eating. (See my article on the role of leptin in weight gain here)
Fighting Back- Increasing Quantity & Quality of Sleep As An Aid to Weight Loss
Taken as a whole, chronic sleep deprivations creates a perfect storm of hormonal reactions that all contribute to increasing your risk of obesity and making it much harder for you to lose weight and keep it off. As such more and more clinicians are recommending increased sleep time as an intervention to help prevent the onset of obesity and the syndrome of life shortening disease that accompany it. In my practice, individuals with jobs where their working hours were constantly changing always had the lowest amount of weight loss compared to regular sleepers, followed closely as mentioned before by those who slept less than six hours during the work week. It might seem to be a hopeless proposition given the increased number of work hours that our lives today often demand, but it isn’t impossible to get a decent number of hours of sleep if you follow these key rules that I have used quite successfully with my clients over the years.
Strategies for Sleeping Better
- Restrict internet and television time after 9 pm. Most of us use both television or internet surfing as a way to unwind after a long day- but that very action can do more to rob us of valuable sleep time than help us truly relax. If you don’t have that much time to sleep then read a book to help you catch your breath and relax after work. You won’t be as stimulated and it will be less likely to keep you up.
- Don’t drink caffeinated drinks. It is better to be sleepy all day and sleep well at night than alert all day and too wired to get decent sleep time at the end of the day. Coffee, energy drinks like Red Bull, and fat burners have no place in the lives of anyone with difficulty sleeping or who has limited time available for sleep. Not only will such drinks interfere with your ability to sleep but with your sleep quality as well. The same applies to alcohol as well- don’t drink it to help you go to sleep as it works to initially make you drowsy and then increases your alertness later on- not exactly a workable formula for a good night’s sleep.
- Don’t drink fluids immediately before bed. Nothing is worse than having to go to the bathroom multiple times during the night. It cuts into your quality sleep time and drinking right before bed can make you do just that. Always curtail your fluid intake two or three hours before bed so you won’t have to ever get up more than once.
- Got to bed at the same time ever night if at all possible. If you don’t work a job with shift changes, sleeping the same hours every day can go a long way in increasing your quality of sleep and the likelihood that you will fall asleep.
How much sleep exactly do you need? It is a very individual requirement; much like food intake and it depends on the person and their activities. Eight hours is usually quoted as the standard for most, but others may need more or less depending on how they feel. The key is that you should be able to awaken refreshed in the morning at a regular hour without the need for an alarm. If you can’t do that or are excessively groggy and feel that you can’t function first thing in the morning without coffee or a pick me up of some sort- you really don’t need the coffee. What you need is more sleep. If your sleep problems persist however you may need to seek professional help, as inadequate sleep can be very much hazardous to your health.
Please note that all material is copyrighted and DMCA Protected and can be reprinted only with the expressed authorization of the author.
Kevin Richardson is an award winning health and fitness writer, one of the most sought after personal trainers in New York City and creator of Naturally Intense High Intensity Training™. Get a copy of his free weight loss ebook here.
1.Stunkard A, Allison K., Lundgren J. Issues for DSM-V: Night Eating Syndrome- Am J Psychiatry 165:424, April 2008
2. CA Everson, Functional consequences of sustained sleep deprivation in the rat, Behavioral Brain Research 1995
3. Barf RP, Desprez T, Meerlo P, Scheurink AJ. Increased food intake and changes in metabolic hormones in response to chronic sleep restriction alternated with short periods of sleep allowance. Am J Physiol Regul Integr Comp Physiol. 2011
4. Taheri S, Lin L, Austin D, Young T, Mignot E (December 2004). “Short Sleep Duration Is Associated with Reduced Leptin, Elevated Ghrelin, and Increased Body Mass Index”.
5. Lyytikäinen P, Rahkonen O, Lahelma E, Lallukka T. Association of sleep duration with weight and weight gain: a prospective follow-up study. J Sleep Res. 2011
6. Nielsen LS, Danielsen KV, Sørensen TI. Short sleep duration as a possible cause of obesity: critical analysis of the epidemiological evidence. Obes Rev. 2011
7 Leproult R, Van Cauter E.Role of sleep and sleep loss in hormonal release and metabolism.Endocr Dev. 2010
8. Barr EL, Zimmet PZ, Welborn TA, et al. (2007). “Risk of cardiovascular and all-cause mortality in individuals with diabetes mellitus, impaired fasting glucose, and impaired glucose tolerance: the Australian Diabetes, Obesity, and Lifestyle Study
9. Graham, TE; Sathasivam, P; Rowland, M; Marko, N; Greer, F; Battram, D (2001). “Caffeine ingestion elevates plasma insulin response in humans during an oral glucose tolerance test”. Canadian journal of physiology and pharmacology
10. Keijzers, GB; De Galan, BE; Tack, CJ; Smits, P (2002). “Caffeine can decrease insulin sensitivity in humans”. Diabetes care
11. Petrie, HJ; Chown, SE; Belfie, LM; Duncan, AM; McLaren, DH; Conquer, JA; Graham, TE (2004). “Caffeine ingestion increases the insulin response to an oral-glucose-tolerance test in obese men before and after weight loss”. The American journal of clinical nutrition
12. Akiba, T; Yaguchi, K; Tsutsumi, K; Nishioka, T; Koyama, I; Nomura, M; Yokogawa, K; Moritani, S et al. (2004). “Inhibitory mechanism of caffeine on insulin-stimulated glucose uptake in adipose cells”. Biochemical pharmacology
13. Palacios R., Sugawara I. (1982). “Hydrocortisone abrogates proliferation of T cells in autologous mixed lymphocyte reaction by rendering the interleukin-2 Producer T cells unresponsive to interleukin-1 and unable to synthesize the T-cell growth factor”. Scand J Immunol
14. Besedovsky, H.O.; Del Rey, A.; Sorkin, E. (1984) “Integration of Activated Immune Cell Products in Immune Endocrine Feedback Circuits.” p. 200 in Leukocytes and Host Defense Vol. 5
15.Inui A, Asakawa A, Bowers CY, et al. (2004). “Ghrelin, appetite, and gastric motility: the emerging role of the stomach as an endocrine organ”. FASEB J. 18 (3): 439–56. doi:10.1096/fj.03-0641rev. PMID 15003990.
16. Castañeda TR, Tong J, Datta R, Culler M, Tschöp MH. (2010). “Ghrelin in the regulation of body weight and metabolism”. Front Neuroendocrinol.
17. Brennan AM, Mantzoros CS (June 2006). “Drug Insight: the role of leptin in human physiology and pathophysiology–emerging clinical applications”. Nat Clin Pract Endocrinol Metab