With a brand new year approaching, many of us will make those typical New Year’s resolutions to take our health seriously and get into shape. This usually prompts the purchase of cute workout outfits and a gym membership that is used perhaps three times throughout January, and then that resolution motivation begins to fizzle out. We’ve all been there. We either get busy or we get burnt out of energy. However, what if the answer to getting healthier and losing weight this year didn’t require the gym and actually allowed you to lie down on the job? Surprisingly, one of the best things that you can do for your overall health, but also to maintain a healthy body weight, is to get more sleep!
The Connection Between Sleep Deprivation and Weight Gain
Most people understand that there is a link between sleep and physical appearance – not just reducing those dark circles under your eyes, but also being one of the vital ways to maintain healthy skin. Few people, however, know about the links between sleep and maintaining a healthy body weight.
When we don’t get enough sleep, our metabolism begins to slow down in order to conserve energy. Cortisol levels are also increased, which triggers your appetite in an effort to get you to refuel your body so that it has the energy that it needs to keep going. Ordinarily this cycle works relatively simply, with hormones like ghrelin prompting you to eat and leptin letting you know that the tank is full. However, in a sleep deprived state, ghrelin levels are increased and leptin levels are low, meaning that your body is constantly getting the message that it needs to eat (again, to gain energy) and your body doesn’t get the message that it is already full. This leads to overeating, bringing in a significantly higher caloric intake than your body needs or can burn off.
Ultimately, with a compromised metabolism, you cannot metabolize your caloric intake properly, and therefore you cannot burn the appropriate number of calories that you need to in order to maintain your body weight. Furthermore, as REM sleep – your most deep and restful sleep phase – is actually the time that your body burns the highest amount of calories, the less time that you spend sleeping also means less time spent in REM sleep for your body to burn all of these extra calories that you’re putting into it.
Although, it could be that you do spend enough hours in bed but just can’t seem to get a quality night’s sleep. Often this is a result of a less than optimal sleep environment or lifestyle choices. For example, if your mattress is old or uncomfortable, it can cause pain and prompt you to stir all evening. Your mattress should be no older than 10 years and should be supportive. This review outlines some of the features that people should be looking for in a mattress.
Aside from the bed, your room may not be the right temperature (68°F or 20°C), or it lets in too much light. These factors will also make you stir often, or keep you from falling asleep. Alternatively, your lifestyle habits could also be to blame. If you work on the computer or watch TV directly before going to bed, the blue light from the screen can also have a negative impact on your REM sleep cycle. Furthermore, if you are a person who needs a caffeine or sugar fix throughout the day, this could cause you problems to fall asleep at night as well, keeping your body in an alert state.
So not only are you eating more calories and unable to burn those calories off, but you are also more prone to eat unhealthy food. This is food that your body has an even more difficult time to properly break down in this sleep deprived state – specifically, sugar or carbs. As your body attempts to preserve its resources, you put it under stress. When your body is stressed, it releases yet again cortisol, stimulating your appetite. It also releases serotonin which works to calm you down.
However, foods that contain high levels of fat and carbs also release serotonin in our bodies, producing this calming neurochemical reaction, and they do this more efficiently and in higher doses than what our bodies naturally produce. This desire to alleviate stress in the body with serotonin is one of the reasons that we reach for junk food when we are stressed or tired – it makes us feel better – plus it’s usually easier.
However, when you are sleep deprived, your cells are actually unable to digest sugars or glucose on a mitochondrial level and they begin to shut down. This causes your blood glucose levels to remain high – commonly known as high blood sugar – and leaves your body with little ability to regulate your insulin levels, which function to regulate your glucose levels. This creates a very real risk not only for weight gain, but also for diabetes.