Sleep is a necessary component of health. After just a day or two of poor sleep, you’ll probably begin to feel irritable, unfocused or exhausted. After a week or more, your mental health might be in the dumps, you might experience short-term memory loss and your stress levels might be off the charts.
After multiple weeks or months of poor sleep, however, even more dangers can creep into your life. Chronic sleep deprivation has been linked to a wide range of long-term health problems, one of which being excessive weight gain.
If you’ve been sleeping poorly for a while and have noticed the number on the scale inching higher, here’s how these two things might be related and how to rectify them.
How sleep impacts weight gain
Research shows that sleep and weight are related in more ways than people think. Of course, many things can affect your weight and your ability to gain or lose it, but being sleep deprived is one that most people don’t consider when trying to get to the bottom of their sudden weight gain.
Sleep deprivation-related weight gain can also happen much faster than you’d expect. You shouldn’t only be worried if you’ve been experiencing insomnia for months and months. Even as little as a week of poor sleep could lead to you gaining weight.
But why does this happen? There are a few reasons, some more direct than others:
- You eat more: Your body produces a few hormones that help control your hunger and appetite. Leptin suppresses your appetite, while ghrelin triggers hunger and encourages you to eat. Sleep deprivation can disrupt the normal amounts of these hormones that your body produces. Leptin is typically reduced, while ghrelin is usually increased. When you’re feeling hungry more often, you’re probably going to eat, leading to excess calorie storage in the body and weight gain.
- You eat poorly: In addition to making you want to eat more often, sleep deprivation can also alter the types of foods you want to eat. Tiredness can hamper your decision-making abilities, meaning your junk food cravings might be more frequent and more tempting. Additionally, sleeping poorly can make you feel bad—emotionally and physically. When this happens, you might be more tempted to opt for the “easy” dinner option or pick up comfort foods in an attempt to raise your spirits. Eating more sugar- and fat-filled foods, especially over extended periods of time, is sure to impact your waistline.
- You’re too tired to move: Sleep deprivation can also impact your weight in more indirect ways. One major effect it has is simply making you tired. When you’re moody and exhausted, you’re less likely to hit the gym or expend more energy than you have to each day. A lack of activity—especially when combined with excessive calorie intake—often leads to weight gain.
If you allow sleep deprivation and the subsequent weight gain to continue, you may increase your risk for type 2 diabetes, obesity and other dangerous health conditions.
Solving the problem of sleep-related weight gain
If you notice that you’re gaining weight, take a look at your lifestyle factors, including sleep, and try to identify things you can change. You may discover that you’re sleeping an average of five hours a night, and this could be contributing to growing numbers on the scale!
Your first goal should be to correct your sleep schedule and get more sleep each night. You may need to alter your daily schedule, let go of commitments or improve your sleep environment to ensure you’re getting enough high-quality sleep to stay healthy. If you suffer from insomnia, try creating a sleep ritual to wind down before bed and consider taking melatonin supplements to encourage your body to sleep more easily.
Another thing you should try in order to rectify both your sleep and your weight is exercising more. Exercise is closely related to sleep, helping you fall and stay asleep at night. And, of course, increasing your daily activity can help you lose excess weight faster.
It’s important to remember that weight gain is just one of the many risks associated with chronic sleep deprivation. Additionally, weight gain itself can have an impact on other problems associated with sleep loss, exacerbating your risks. For a healthier, happier life, you need to sleep enough at night, as well as partake in healthy lifestyle choices like eating healthy foods and exercising. All of these choices work together to help you maintain a healthy weight and feel good each and every day.