Lack of Sleep - How Sleepless Nights Can Lead to Weight Gain

The relationship between weight and sleep is simultaneously complex and straightforward. When you don’t get enough sleep, you are more likely to put on weight. That’s the straightforward piece. The complexity comes in when we look at why this happens. 


Over the years, scientists have observed the following two trends in America: (1) the amount of sleep people get is decreasing, and (2) the average body mass index (BMI) and obesity levels are increasing. In fact, a large-scale analysis of previous research found that those who get less than 6 hours of sleep are more likely to be clinically obese, and another review found that a shorter sleep duration increases the risk of obesity by 89% in children and 55% in adults. 


The science of sleep is fascinating. There is so much going on internally that helps us fall and stay asleep. When these bodily processes function as they should, it is great. Falling asleep on your millet pillow each night will feel effortless. However, various factors can lead to sleep disorders and disturbances like insomnia and prevent us from getting the rest we need. When this happens, the thought of bedtime can be anxiety-inducing. 


We’ve all experienced a restless night in the past, and most of the global population will experience disordered sleep at one point in their lives. That said, many people know how rough a lousy night’s sleep can make them feel. Not getting enough sleep can make you feel irritable, confused, hungry, increase heart rate, reduce concentration, and more. Work will feel like a struggle, and you will be less motivated. When this is experienced regularly, it can lead to also weight gain. 


Think about the last time you didn’t get enough sleep. Maybe you had to drag yourself out of bed and stopped to get an extra coffee and bagel on your way to work. You were too tired to make your own lunch, so you went and grabbed take-out then decide to skip your evening workout because you were too tired. So instead, you make a frozen pizza and hang out on the couch. This is the cycle sleep deprivation can cause. 


When we feel sleepy, we don’t make the best dietary choices. According to Susan Zafarlotfi, the clinical director of the Institute for Sleep and Wake Disorders at Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey, “When you have sleep deprivation and are running on low energy, you automatically go for a bag of potato chips or other comfort foods.” She compares frequent sleep deprivation to credit card debt. The longer you accumulate your debt, the higher your interest rates will be. When it comes to sleep, the interest comes in the form of an increasing waistline and declining health. 


This has been observed in several studies. For example, research has found that sleep deprivation has an impact on our food cravings, and those who don’t get enough sleep crave more calories and carbohydrates. The same effect occurs with children as well.  Studies have found that children who get an insufficient amount of sleep experience metabolic irregularities and an increase in the consumption of unhealthy foods full of sugar, fat, and starch. 


It’s not simply the lack of sleep that causes the weight gain, but the effects of sleep deprivation that trigger it. For example, without enough sleep, your metabolism can’t function as well as it should. Sleep deprivation, regardless of the cause, often leads to metabolic dysregulation. 

In one study, 15 men were kept awake for 24 hours. Their resting metabolic rate (RMR) was taken before and after. After they were sleep-deprived, their RMR had decreased by 5%, and after they ate, it again reduced by 20%. 


Poor quality sleep is associated with blood sugar and insulin resistance. In addition, hormones like cortisol and melatonin can be disrupted and cause insulin spikes. It can also prevent your body from using fat as fuel, so the fat essentially accumulates in storage. 


Other hormones like ghrelin and leptin also play a role. These hormones are associated with our appetite and naturally increase and decrease throughout the day. Leptin is a hormone that tells you when to stop eating, and research has found that when you are sleep-deprived, you have less. This means you are more likely to eat more because you aren’t getting those “I’m full” signals. Ghrelin is a hormone that tells you when it’s time to eat, and when you are sleep-deprived, you have higher levels of it. This means you are more likely to eat more often and indulge in extra snacks and mid-day treats. The combination of less leptin with more ghrelin leads to weight gain. 


One study compared ghrelin and leptin levels in individuals who got only four hours of sleep to those who got ten hours of sleep. The researchers found that when participants got only 4 hours of sleep, their levels of ghrelin had increased significantly, and their levels of leptin had decreased. As a result, the individuals who got just 4 hours of sleep had an increased appetite and decreased feelings of fullness. 


Studies also suggest that sleep deprivation affects our endocannabinoid system and a neurotransmitter called orexin. Many sleep aids target this neurotransmitter, and when you aren’t getting enough sleep, it can trigger an increase in appetite. 


When you sleep, you are more likely to be physically active, and when you are sleep-deprived, you are more dormant. Like in the example used at the beginning of this post, if you didn’t sleep well and are feeling tired, you are a lot less likely to hit the gym or go for a run. This decrease in physical exercise can contribute to weight gain. Alternatively, the more you sleep, the better your activity level will be. For example, in one study, basketball players spent 10 hours in bed each night for five days. The results found their accuracy had increased, their reaction times improved, and their fatigue levels decreased.



Stop Weight Gain By Sleeping More


Sleeping 8 hours a night may sound like the most straightforward weight management program ever, but it’s often easier said than done. For example, those who work nights or new moms can experience disrupted sleep schedules, making it more difficult to fall and stay asleep. Fortunately, there are ways you can improve your quality of sleep and prevent future weight gain.


Practice good sleep hygiene.    Sleep hygiene involves healthy bedtime behaviors that will help get your body ready for sleep. For example, you should avoid exposure to blue light from iPad, cell phones, or laptops at least one hour before you want to go to sleep. It is also best to avoid any stressful or mentally strenuous activities. For example, if making a to-do list for tomorrow causes feelings of overwhelm – don’t do it. Instead, leave it for the morning and engage in relaxing activities like meditation, yoga, or listening to music. 


Set up your sleep sanctuary.  If your bedroom and bedding aren’t comfortable, it will make it more difficult for you to fall asleep. Ensure your mattress is supportive and comfortable, your sheets are soft, cool, and clean, and you have a pillow designed for your sleeping position like a millet pillow. A millet pillow will keep your temperature cool and support your head and neck while you sleep. To make your bedroom even more sleep-inducing, use a linen spray and infuse your sheets with the lovely scent of lavender. 


Take magnesium glycinate. Magnesium is one of the most essential nutrients in our body and is critical for our sleep. Unfortunately, the majority of Americans don’t have enough and are deficient. By taking a magnesium glycinate supplement, you can help with anxiety, maintain normal heart rhythm, improve exercise, reduce pain, manage blood sugar and improve the quality of your sleep. 


Avoid caffeine. A morning cup of coffee likely won’t affect your sleep at night, but drinking coffee and caffeinated beverages later in the day can negatively impact your rest. When you have too much caffeine, it will make it more challenging to fall asleep and prevent you from getting restful sleep. Research has found that an afternoon cup of coffee is likely to keep you in the lighter stages of sleep, preventing deep, restorative sleep. 


Exercise regularly.   Regular exercise will help you manage to sleep as well as improve sleep quality. It can also enhance your wakefulness during the day, so you don’t feel as sleepy. For example, one study found that 150 minutes of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of high-intensity exercise increased daytime concentration and decreased daytime sleepiness. 


The research on the subject is crystal clear – sleepless nights can lead to weight gain. If you want to lose weight and prevent weight gain, you need to spend more time on your millet pillow. Use the sleep tips listed here, like practicing proper sleep hygiene, using a linen spray, and taking magnesium glycinate, and you can feel better while simultaneously shrinking your waistline. 

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