Not getting enough sleep can do more than just make you feel sluggish the next day--it can actually sabotage your weight-loss goals. When you feel tired or low on energy, you typically reach for starchy comfort foods to give you that quick burst of energy you need to make it through your hectic day. There is a scientific reason you crave those starchy foods when your energy levels start to plummet. These foods are predominantly made up of simple carbohydrates, which means they are broken down quickly and the glucose is absorbed into your bloodstream, providing you that quick burst of energy. The problem is that these foods are oftentimes loaded with fat and sugar.
The Science Behind the Sleep/Weight Connection
Additionally, if you're not getting enough sleep or the sleep you are getting is not quality sleep, you are going to disrupt your metabolism. This is all related to two nightly hormones called ghrelin and leptin, both which affect your appetite. These two hormones work in tandem to control how hungry and how full you feel. Your gastrointestinal tract produces ghrelin, which stimulates your appetite. Your fat cells produce leptin, which is a hormone that tells your brain that you are full.
The proper production of these hormones can be thrown off-balance when you get fewer than seven hours of sleep per night. As a result, your leptin levels drop and your ghrelin levels increase. This will increase your appetite while also reducing the satisfaction you feel after you eat--a double whammy.
It's the combination of taking in more calories to combat the lack of energy that a good night of sleep provides and the disruption of your hunger-regulating hormones that ultimately causes weight gain with consistent lack of sleep. In fact, research has shown that people who get the least amount of sleep weigh the most and have the highest amount of body fat.
What to Do
Aim to get between seven and eight hours of sleep each night. If you have trouble falling asleep at night, be sure to get into a nighttime routine that signals your body that it's time for sleep. Find ways to relax your body and mind. Avoid electronic devices--turn off the television, resist the temptation to check your email or various social networking websites and put down your cell phone. The light emitted from these devices can inhibit slumber. Perform relaxing activities, such as reading, journaling, drinking warm herbal tea or taking a hot bath.
Also, avoid consuming caffeinated beverages such as coffee or tea at least four hours before bed. Speaking of beverages, don't gulp down too much of any beverage before going to bed to prevent frequent nighttime bathroom trips. This might not diminish your total sleep time logged, but it will certainly affect your quality of sleep. It's also best to avoid exercising (especially vigorous exercise) close to bed-time, specifically within three hours of hitting the sack.
Kari Hartel, RD, LD is a Registered Dietitian and freelance writer based out of St. Louis, MO. Kari is passionate about nutrition education and the prevention of chronic disease through a healthy diet and active lifestyle. Kari holds a Bachelor of Science in Dietetics from Southeast Missouri State University and is committed to helping people lead healthy lives. She completed a yearlong dietetic internship at OSF St. Francis Medical Center in Peoria, IL, where she worked with a multitude of clients and patients with complicated diagnoses. She planned, marketed, and implemented nutrition education programs and cooking demonstrations for the general public as well as for special populations, including patients with cancer, heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer's disease, obesity, and school-aged children. Contact Kari at KariHartelRD@gmail.com.