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How a Lack of Sleep Can Make You Gain Weight

by in Medical Care May 23, 2019

Feelings of hunger are regulated by a plethora of systems within the body. Our brain is constantly receiving signals about how much energy we need to consume to continue powering the high-maintenance machine that is our body. While generally fairly accurate under good conditions, these signals can be drastically altered by a number of factors, including sleep. Here, we’ll examine three examples of how sleep deprivation can send inaccurate signals about appetite to our bodies.

Hormones that Send Hunger and Fullness Signals

Lack of sleep has been connected with changes in the levels of two hormones that regulate eating, leptin and gherlin.

Leptin controls hunger signals. Lack of sleep causes the body to produce lower levels of leptin, which sends starvation signals to the brain. A study published in the journal Public Library of Science: Medicine showed those who were consistently sleep deprived (defined as less than five hours of sleep per night) had on average 16% less leptin than a well rested person.

Gherlin is an appetite stimulant produced by the stomach. Higher levels of gherlin equate to bigger appetites. The same study that found lower leptin levels in people who were consistently sleep deprived also showed gherlin levels averaging 15% higher than those who got adequate sleep.

These effects seem to scale with even more severe sleep deprivation. Another study by The New York Obesity Nutrition Research Center that tested subjects after just two four-hour nights of sleep found a 28% increase in gherlin levels and a 18% lower leptin levels compared to a control group and a self-reported increase in hunger of 24%.

Lack of Sleep Can Lead to Something Like the Munchies

Another emerging area of research in the sleep-appetite connection is the activation of the endocannabinoid (eCB) system. In case you’re wondering, yes, that’s same system activated by Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and Cannabidiol (CBD) found in marijuana. It may be worth considering using a product that is high in THC similar to violator kush to help you get to sleep.

Higher eCB levels can significantly change both appetite and energy levels, and can “affect the brain’s motivation and reward circuits and can spark a desire for tasty foods,” according to a University of Chicago study.

The study, published in the March 2016 issue of Sleep, showed higher eCB levels among subjects who were deprived of sleep that also lasted longer than normal eCB fluctuations during the day, as well as a tendency to seek out tasty foods that provided a quick boost of energy, but generally lacked nutritional value. If you’re wanting to be able to try and get to sleep and eat at the same time, you could look into how you go about decarbing marijuana in order to bake edible marijuana goods.

Cortisol Levels Can Interfere with Sustainable Weight Loss

As we’ve covered previously, sleep and levels of the stress hormone cortisol are strongly connected. In addition to negative impacts on cardiovascular health, increased cortisol levels can also make it difficult to lose weight in a healthy way.

Increased cortisol levels send signals to the body to conserve fat for possible times of deprivation ahead. While this may be a useful function in a situation where access to food is limited by war or famine, it’s incredibly inconvenient when trying to lose weight.

When increased cortisol levels are combined with calorie restriction, the body is more likely to keep the fat and break down break down muscle to make up for the difference between energy consume and energy required by the body.

Research at the University of South Florida found that people eating 10% less than their daily calorie requirements who were limited to 5.5 hours of sleep per night lost 0.6 kilogram of fat and 2.4 kilograms of other tissue (mainly muscle). Well rested subjects had almost even levels of muscle and fat weight loss.

Getting Better Sleep to Manage Diet and Weight

At Apple Healthcare, we offer take-home sleep studies than can be used to diagnose obstructive sleep apnea in the comfort of your own bed without the cost and hassle of an in-lab sleep study. We also help patients with OSA improve the quality of their sleep by providing APAP machines and masks.

Want to learn more about the take-home sleep studies we offer or make an appointment? Give us a call at 865-524-1234!

May is “Sleep Month” at Apple Healthcare. All month long we’ll be helping you learn how to get great sleep to enjoy great health! Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, or subscribe to our Newsletter for more information.