It would seem logical that the less you rest, the more you burn calories, right? But that’s not how the body reacts to a lack of sleep.
You might not believe that increasing your sleep time would help you lose weight. However, scientists from Europe to North America continue to publish studies demonstrating this to be true.
How a chronic lack of sleep causes weight gain
To put it in very simple terms, the body views a chronic lack of sleep as a stressor and reacts by secreting cortisol, its stress hormone. This in turn causes it to store calories as fat in order to have reserves to meet the perceived threat.
What is even more surprising is that a chronically sleep-deprived body tends to store fat even if its caloric intake hasn’t increased.
So scientists now know that sleep deprivation is contributing to the obesity epidemic.
4 Side-effects of sleep deprivation
There are many other mechanisms triggered by chronic lack of sleep, and here are 4 of them:
1.Glucose resistance and a decrease in leptin:
A reduction in length and/or quality of sleep are both linked to glucose resistance and a decrease in the production of leptin (a satiety-inducing hormone) and an increase in ghrelin (the appetite/hunger-increasing hormone).1
There is a clear link between low-quality or lack of sleep and Type II Diabetes.
2. Sleep deprivation also stimulates food cravings:
Regions of the brain that are sensitive to food stimuli, or cravings, are stimulated under sleep deprivation. This makes it difficult to resist high-calorie foods which could eventually lead to obesity.
3. Promotion of obesity or increased BMI:
Chronic lack of sleep encourages the expression or activation of certain genes which promote obesity or increased Body Mass Index (BMI).
4. Increase in chronic inflammation:
During sleep, the body cleanses itself and the brain of toxins that cause oxidative stress and lead to inflammation.
A lack of sleep, even though it burns more calories, maintains oxidative stress and inflammation in the body.
Obesity is associated with low-grade inflammation and oxidative stress, according to Italian researchers.2
Not only are stressed-out working adults experiencing sleep curtailment in today’s hyper-connected world, but sleep deprivation is increasing among children, as are Type 2 Diabetes and obesity.
However, the solution is not simply to sleep a lot, because over-sleeping has its risks also.
Researchers found that the optimum solution to sleep deprivation is to sleep only the amount of time your body needs, and on a regular basis.
How much sleep do you need?
So how do you know how much sleep you need? One suggestion I found interesting was this:
Monitor your sleep time during your next one-week vacation when you can get up anytime you like in the morning.
Of course, during the first few days of vacation, we all sleep a lot to make up for the lack of sleep we’ve accumulated during the workweek.
However, after 2 to 3 days the body will settle into a regular sleep pattern. This is where you should take notice: what is the average length of time you sleep after a few days on vacation?
For the majority of people, it’s somewhere around 8 hours, give or take an hour.
According to statistics, there are few people who can function well on only 4 or 5 hours of sleep.
As deep, high-quality sleep is as important as the length of sleep, how do you ensure you’ll get restorative sleep?
6 suggestions for high-quality sleep:
Here are 6 suggestions for high-quality sleep worth repeating, even though you may know them already:
- Try to go to bed at the same time every night.
The body loves routine. Also, having a ritual before bedtime signals to the brain that it’s time to get ready for sleep.
- Shut off all electronic devices at least 1 hour before your bedtime:
The blue light on our cell phones, iPads, iPhones, and televisions play havoc with our circadian rhythms by de-regulating areas in the brain linked to the back of the eye. Switch to a paper-based book instead if you like to read before going to sleep.
- Watch what you eat after 6pm if you go to sleep at 11pm:
Sugar (including fruit), caffeine, theine, or other foods with stimulants in them (including chocolate) will disturb your sleep patterns and deep sleep.
Wine, though it initially induces relaxation, will disturb sleep later in the evening if consumed in important amounts. This is due to the quantity of sugar in it.
- Do not re-charge electronic devices in your bedroom:
The strong electronic waves created during re-charging can disturb sleep.
- Make sure your bedroom is completely dark:
This includes minimal light coming from your alarm clock (I turn the face of my alarm clock towards the wall so it doesn’t face me when I sleep).
- Keep the bedroom slightly cool:
Having a source of fresh air like a slightly opened window renews the air supply throughout the night.
There are many factors linked to weight gain, Type 2 Diabetes, and obesity. It’s not as simple as calories in, calories out, as previously thought.
The lack of sleep in quantity and quality is now known to be a contributing factor to the obesity epidemic.
Many people may disregard this at first because it doesn’t appear logical.
- The Important Role of Sleep in Metabolism: Copinschi G.a · Leproult R.b · Spiegel K. a.Laboratory of Physiology, Université Libre de Bruxelles (ULB) and b.Neuropsychology and Functional Neuroimaging Research Unit, Center for Research in Cognition and Neurosciences and ULB Neuroscience Institute, ULB, Brussels, Belgium; and c.Integrated Physiology and Physiology of Brain Arousal Systems, Lyon Neuroscience Research Center, INSERM U1028 – UMR 5292, Faculty of Medicine Lyon Est, Université Claude Bernard, Lyon 1, Lyon, France; https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24732925
2. Marseglia L, Manti S, D’Angelo G, Nicotera A, Parisi E, Di Rosa G, Gitto E, Arrigo T. Oxidative Stress in Obesity: A Critical Component in Human Diseases. Int J Mol Sci. 2014 Dec 26; 16 (1):378-400.