How Does Sleep Deprivation Make You Fat?

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Americans have been getting fatter for the past 20 years. During the same period, there’s been a shift toward an all-go-all-the-time culture of jam-packed schedules.  That much is old news, but what about a relationship between the two? A 2007 paper from the University of Chicago’s Department of Medicine explored how weight gain is linked to sleep deprivation.

Dr Knutson et al, argued that it’s not a coincidence that Americans have been getting fatter as they’ve been sleeping less. They reviewed several studies, and found data suggesting that sleeping for fewer than seven hours a night could cause weight gain in at least three ways: your metabolism slows down, you get hungrier and you spend less energy during the day.


How Sleep Deprivation Can Cause Weight Gain

  • Sleeping for fewer than seven hours a night can slow your glucose metabolism. Even if an impaired glucose metabolism isn’t accompanied by weight gain, it still increases your risk for diabetes. If you do become obese, that could put you at even greater risk.
  • You may not be metabolizing your meals as well as you should, but sleeping too little can still increase your appetite. When you’re tired, you’ll want to give your body more energy by feeding it. You’ll also have more waking hours in which you can eat, adding to your total calorie intake. Some people also tend to make unhealthy food choices when they don’t sleep enough.
  • While you’re getting hungrier and eating more, your body is using less energy throughout the day. All day long, your body burns calories as you go about your day-to-day duties and activities, but a tired body will cling to the energy that you give it at mealtimes. Taking in extra calories as a result of sleep deprivation will further increase your chance of weight gain.

Why You Get Hungrier
Willpower isn’t the only reason for eating more and needing less, the authors said. Leptin and ghrelin, two hormones produced by the body, help to control your appetite and your use of calories. Leptin keeps your appetite in check and makes you burn more calories. Ghrelin does the opposite.

When you don’t get enough sleep, your leptin levels go down and your ghrelin levels go up. That reaction is the reason you’re likely to get hungrier and notice an increase in your appetite. It’s also the reason for the drop in the number of calories that your body spends on everyday activities.

Managing Weight Problems Related to Sleep Deprivation
Even if you’ve started a program to manage your weight, most people’s motivation wanes when they’re sleep-deprived. It’s enough of a challenge to cope with cravings when you’re well-rested, but fighting the body’s chemical reactions can be a losing game. The best solution is to avoid sleep deprivation.

In our competitive and over-caffeinated culture, it can be difficult to slow down and take the time for a good night’s rest. Getting enough sleep should be part of your weight-loss plan. Your health, not just your waistline, will improve if you give your body the rest it needs.

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