How Your Sleep Patterns Control Your Weight

  • By Dr. Anand Thakkar
  • 16 Mar, 2016
The amount of sleep you get each night fluctuates. In fact, unless you’re incredibly on top of your life, you probably go to bed at a different time each night and wake up at a different time each morning. Sleep—or lack thereof—affects concentration, mood, and energy levels.

But the hours of sleep you get affect more than your moods and the circles under your eyes. They also make it harder or easier to control your weight. Here’s how.

Too Little Sleep

A huge number of studies link too little sleep to weight gain and inability to lose weight. One 16-year study of over 68,000 women found that women who sleep less than five hours a night are 15% more likely to be obese than those who sleep seven hours a night. Multiple other studies have corroborated the link between sleep deprivation and weight gain.

So why do you gain weight when you don’t sleep? Shouldn’t the extra hours give you more time to exercise, stay hydrated, and burn calories? The simple answer: no.

In many cases, weight control comes down to the influence of a number of factors—an equation of sorts, if you will. If energy intake exceeds energy expenditure, you gain weight. If expenditure exceeds intake, you lose weight. Researchers link sleep deprivation to increased energy intake as well as decreased energy expenditure.  

Lack of sleep affects intake and expenditure in the following ways:

Makes You Hungrier: Eve Van Cauter, the director of the Sleep, Metabolism, and Health Centre at the University of Chicago, reports a link between less sleep and imbalanced hunger/satiety hormones. People who don’t get enough sleep have higher levels of ghrelin (the hormone that produces feelings of hunger) and lower levels of leptin (the hormone that creates feelings of fullness). So, when you’re tired, you feel hungrier, which can lead to overeating.
Makes You More Likely to Eat Junk Food: Cauter also correlates lack of sleep with making poor food choices. According to her research, people who don’t get enough sleep eat an average of 300 more calories a day. Most of those calories come from unhealthy foods that are high in fat.
Makes You More Tired: Weight loss can be a strenuous process. When you don’t get enough sleep, you increase the difficulty by making yourself tired. This makes you less inclined to be active, which robs you of important exercise time.

Too Much Sleep

If too little sleep encourages weight gain and retention, then does oversleeping counteract that? Again, the answer is a pretty simple “not a chance.” While excess sleep doesn’t cause weight gain, it can contribute to it. A six-year study shows that people who sleep for more than nine hours a night are 21% more likely to become obese than people who sleep for between seven and eight hours a night.

Like sleep deprivation, oversleeping messes with the weight loss equation, changing energy intake and expenditure to ultimately cause weight control issues. Oversleeping affects you in the following ways:

Makes You Less Motivated: Researchers have long tied depression and other mood disorders to abnormal sleep patterns. While it isn’t clear if depressed mood causes oversleeping or if it’s the other way around, excessive sleepiness and sleep correlate with feelings of unhappiness, mental fatigue, and disinterest. These symptoms make it difficult to find the necessary motivation to fulfill a weight loss routine. Altering the amount of sleep you get may help you find the motivation you need to succeed. Please note, however, that you should address prolonged depression with a professional, as it may indicate a serious mental health condition.
Makes You More Likely to Eat Junk Food: People who over sleep often feel rushed, which increases the likelihood that they will opt for a fast, unhealthy meal. This habit makes losing weight much more difficult.
Makes You More Likely to Incur Injury: Excess sleep correlates with high risk of headaches and back injury. While these conditions don’t guarantee weight gain, they can make it more difficult to get the physical activity you need to stay healthy and control your weight.

Adequate Sleep

It’s obvious from the data that sleeping for the optimal time each night has drastic impact on your ability to reach your weight goals. For most adults, this means sleeping at least seven hours a night but no more than nine.

But how do you change your sleep patterns so you can better control your weight? Try these tips from the sleep experts at the National Sleep Foundation:

Avoid eating, drinking, or using tobacco right before bed.
Avoid using your bedroom for activities other than sleep and sex.
Develop a routine that includes going to bed and waking up at about the same time each day.
Exercise regularly.
Record your sleep patterns so you can identify any issues.
Sleep in a quiet, dark space where you feel comfortable.
If you are doing all you can and still not seeing the weight results you want, the amount of sleep you get may be the problem. Consult with a weight loss specialist, your primary physician, or a sleep specialist to find out how you can start getting more sleep and controlling your weight.
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