Is Lack of Sleep Making You Gain Weight?

March 10, 2020

When you have not had enough sleep the night before, you might be tempted to fix that groggy head in the morning by downing a large latte to get the engine started. But according to experts at the National Institute of Health, lack of sleep alters the chemical signals that affect appetite and the brain's reward system. Skimping on sleep sets your brain up to make bad decisions and fogs impulse control. 

Hormones do battle and keep you eating
John Keeley, Clinical Education Specialist with Persante Health and Shore Medical Center’s Sleep Center, said there are several reasons why the lack of quality sleep leads to weight gain. “You don’t often go eight hours without eating during the day, but a normal sleep cycle will allow you to sleep without eating at night with no problem. That is because ghrelin, the hunger hormone that tells you to keep eating, is suppressed at night, and leptin, the hormone that tells you to stop eating, takes over when the circadian rhythm is functioning properly. When you don’t keep a regular sleep schedule or have interrupted sleep due to a sleep disorder, such a sleep apnea, ghrelin keeps pumping and telling you to eat, and the leptin never gets a chance to kick in,” said Keeley. “Not only will lack of sleep keep you eating, it will also have you reaching for the comfort foods that are often loaded with carbs and sugars because your body is in search of an energy boost.” He added that lack of sleep can lead to a lack of energy, compromising your ability to get into a good exercise regime. 

Leptin only kicks in when the body is getting the necessary amount of sleep. Keeley said not making enough time to sleep will keep the leptin at bay, and the ghrelin will continue to tell the body that it is still hungry, helping to pack on the pounds. 

A vicious cycle
The problems resulting from the lack of sleep and subsequent weight gain can be a challenge to overcome. Keeley said, “Weight gain can lead to a sleep disorder. Conversely, a sleep disorder can also lead to weight gain, creating a vicious cycle. Treating an underlying sleep disorder will help break that cycle and increase the likelihood of achieving diet, exercise, and weightloss goals.”

Lack of sleep slows metabolism
That battle between ghrelin telling the body it is hungry and to keep eating and the leptin unsuccessfully telling the body to stop eating will result in a slowed metabolism, according to Keeley. “Like a good circadian rhythm helps you sleep, keeping an eating schedule also helps regulate these hunger hormones and gives your metabolism the speed to do what it is designed to do. An eating schedule needs to sync up and be a part of your circadian rhythm,” said Keeley. “Just like your body knows when to expect to go to sleep, you need to train your body to know when to expect food and when you are done for the night.” He concluded, “Feed your body when you need the energy and give your body the chance to rest and process the food you took in during the waking hours. Keeping a regular eating schedule will help your body know how to process the food you take in properly. 

Sleep-deprived and reaching for junk food
It is no accident that when you are sleep deprived, you will reach right past the salad and opt for the easy grab-and-go items, many of which are loaded with carbs and sugars. Keeley said, “When you are sleep deprived, your body will crave high carb and high sugar foods to find the energy to keep going. The low energy will have you reaching for comfort foods like chips, ice cream and high sugar snacks and whatever is easy to pick up with very little prep. But a proper sleep schedule helps lay the groundwork for impulse control, a necessary part of proper weight management. 

If you are feeling tired even after a full night's sleep or are unable to stay asleep and wake up feeling groggy, or wake up choking, gagging or experiencing pauses in breathing when sleeping, it may be a sign of a sleep disorder. Contact John Keeley at the Shore Sleep Center at 888-633-6818.