Getting enough quality sleep is important to your health for so many reasons. A regular good night’s sleep can boost your immune system, improve mood, improve cognition and productivity, reduce stress, and lower risks for serious health problems like heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
But did you know that sleep also affects your weight? Research has shown that sleeping fewer than seven hours per night increases the risk of weight gain and obesity. Additionally, not getting enough sleep can increase your appetite and make you crave higher-calorie foods while decreasing your ability to resist them. Lack of sleep increases your risk of obesity but, conversely, being obese can cause trouble sleeping, creating a vicious cycle.
Chronic sleep deprivation can cause a variety of adverse effects on metabolism and overall health, such as the following:
• Can interfere with the body’s ability to metabolize carbohydrates and cause glucose levels to rise, resulting in higher insulin levels and greater storage of body fat.
• Reduces leptin levels, which can cause increased carbohydrate cravings.
• Reduces growth hormone levels, which help regulate the body’s composition of muscle and fat.
• Can lead to insulin resistance and an increased risk of type 2 diabetes.
• Can cause a rise in blood pressure.
• Can increase heart disease risk.
How much sleep is enough?
The recommended amount of sleep for adults ages 18 to 60 is seven hours or more each night, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). As you age, the amount of sleep you need increases to seven to nine hours per night for older adults ages 60 to 64, and seven to eight hours per night for those 65 and older.
If you’re sleeping less than seven hours per night, it can affect your long-term health by increasing your risk for weight gain, obesity, heart disease, stroke, and depression. Studies have shown that there is a connection between sleep loss and weight gain, and another 2013 study found that adults who slept only five hours per night for five nights gained an average of 1.8 pounds.
The hormone connection.
Poor sleep habits can wreak havoc on your hormones. Ghrelin is known as the “hunger hormone” and is the hormone that is produced when your stomach is empty. It’s also produced in greater amounts when you’re sleep-deprived. Some studies have shown that chronically high levels of ghrelin can play a role in obesity, and higher levels of ghrelin in your body can lead to sugar and junk food cravings. Getting enough sleep may be the key to managing this hunger hormone and managing your weight.
Another hormone that is affected by insufficient sleep is cortisol, which is the stress hormone. Lack of sleep can increase cortisol levels and can stimulate hunger—causing you to overeat.
Less sleep = poor food choices.
Not getting enough sleep can make it more challenging to make good food choices. Some studies have shown that a sleep-deprived brain can change the way you relate to food and the food choices you make. A sleepy brain is more prone to making bad decisions because lack of sleep dulls activity in the brain’s frontal lobe (the site of decision-making and impulse control). When you’re tired, your brain’s reward center is activated and seeks out something that feels good, so junk food cravings are harder to resist.
Prioritize sleep for a healthy weight.
To maintain a healthy weight or to lose weight, getting proper sleep is essential. Maintaining a healthy weight can reduce your risks for health problems down the line, so it’s important to incorporate getting enough sleep into other healthy habits like a good diet and exercise. Aim for at least seven hours per night, and if you have nights where that’s not possible, try to limit late nights so it doesn’t become a habit.
Some habits that can help you improve your quality of sleep include the following:
• Sticking to a sleep schedule. Go to bed at the same time every night, and get up at the same time every day—even on weekends.
• Don’t go to bed too hungry or too full, and don’t eat a large meal too close to bedtime.
• Limit caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine, which are all stimulants that can affect sleep.
• Create a restful environment in your bedroom; usually a room that is dark, quiet, and cool is best for sleeping.
• Avoid using screens before bedtime including television, smartphones, tablets, and laptops.
• Have a bedtime routine of calming activities such as reading, meditating, or taking a warm bath.
• Limit daytime naps, as they can interfere with nighttime sleep. Keep naps to 30 minutes or less and only occasionally.
• Get regular exercise during the day but not too close to bedtime.