It’s a common fact of life today that many folks don’t really get the full amount of sleep they really need. Whether it’s trying to catch up with work, or binge-watching a favorite TV show, the results are essentially the same. Indeed, even those who blindly swear they sleep enough are often found to be suffering from the lack of it. And this is unfortunate, as getting your head down for a good eight hours is essential for your body’s health. Staying up all night can cause all sorts of trouble, both physical and mental, but a lesser-known side effect of sleep deprivation is weight gain.
You heard us right -- trouble with sleep can contribute to trouble with weight. But before we start leaping to too many conclusions, let’s first review some basic information.
The Effects of All-Nighters
There are a number of reasons why burning the midnight oil too often can lead to further and further weight gain. But do not make the rookie mistake of thinking that sleeping directly causes any sort of weight loss. That’s not what the problem is, and nothing in life is ever so easy. Rather, it’s more to do with the effects that staying awake too long can have on your attitude and your metabolism.
Think about it: if you're frequently tired, you're more sluggish and less willing to commit to physical activity. Just think of how much effort it takes to force yourself out of bed for work after a restless night, and then apply it to something you’re not going to lose your job for missing out on, like daily exercises in the morning. This lethargy will last through much of the day, making any efforts towards physical activity harder to achieve. Naturally, the longer this keeps up, the more your lifestyle will settle around your new norm.
But of course, it’s more than just attitude. Sleep deprivation also causes metabolic changes as well.
We’re probably all familiar with the concept of sleep being important for your mental wellbeing. When tired, it’s harder to think, to remember things, or to respond to stimuli. This is why it’s dangerous to drive or go to work while tired – arguably it’s just as irresponsible as doing those things while drunk.
With a lack of sleep comes increased stress, and a diminished capacity for your body to deal with that stress productively. And increased stress leads to bigger appetites and shorter patience. You become less inclined to eat lighter, healthier meals, and start to choose heavier ones that are more immediately satisfying. It also takes more to make you satisfied as well – without sleep, your body produces more ghrelin, the hormone that tells you you’re hungry, and less leptin, which tells your brain that you’re sated. Further your body’s mitochondria, which are essential to breaking down sugars in the body, also start to shut down. So not only do you start to feel the urge to eat more and heavier foods, but your body becomes less effective at dealing with the sugars within them. This means a lot of sugars sitting in your bloodstream not doing anything.
All this leads not only to greater weight gain but also to increased risk of diabetes.
Another quirk left over from our old cave-man days and survival instincts is if you spend a lot of time awake, it tricks your body into thinking you’re in danger, and thus enters into survival mode. Similarly, if you wake up and go to bed at irregular times, your body tends to interpret it as a sort of crisis situation. Subsequently, your metabolism slows and your body starts craving more fuel to get it through the perceived crisis, which will last as long as you continue not getting enough sleep.
Getting Better Sleep for a Better Body
Before you undertake any sort of dieting and exercise program in order to lose weight, examine the quality of sleep you're getting. This is a case of building a habit more than anything, so it’s important that you keep the pattern consistent for the entirety of the duration, but it will not only remove some of your obstacles, it will give your diet and exercise routine the conditions it needs to be most effective.
Be very careful of any activities you undertake before going to bed as well. Avoid exercise, for example, as it makes the brain more active and raises your body temperature, all of which make sleep harder. Further, avoid eating heavy meals or drinking alcohol before sleeping, as these can disrupt your natural sleep cycles. Try to find activities and methods to help you sleep better like listening to soothing music.
Also consider your sleep environment. Curtains and white-noise machines can mitigate outside lights and sounds that may be disrupting the quality of the sleep you're getting. Room temperature may also be an issue -- adjusting your thermostat or using more or less bedding might keep you from getting out of bed in the middle of the night. If you can't remember the last time you bought a new mattress, your bed may also be impacting your sleep, particularly if you often find yourself with a sore back or neck in the morning. A new premium foam mattress could be all you need to get back into bed where you belong.