How Lack of ZZZZ’s Could Be Making You Fat
Sleep - that most luxurious, wonderful, restorative state when our body repairs and restores itself. It's also the time when the human brain cleans out the debris, and gets ready for another day, assimilates new information and processes problems to be dealt with tomorrow. It is as essential to life as the air we breathe and yet, for an increasing number of people, young and old it is becoming as elusive as Waldo in a crowded soccer stadium. I participated in a wellness day recently for a roomful of Executives and their partners, when the topic of sleep came up the questions came pouring in.…to say that it is a pain point is an understatement.
There’s good reason for that - there are no end of articles online, in magazines, in news reports, books - all about sleep…are you getting enough? Is it good quality? Should you be sleeping less? You better be, because chronic sleep deprivation and poor sleep quality has been linked to everything from obesity to cancer, low testosterone levels in men, premature aging and pretty much everything in between. Wait. Obesity??? Lack of sleep can make me fat??? Have I got your attention now?
How much sleep we really need is a bit of a moving target but the sweet spot seems to be around 7 hours per night with some experts conceding that 6.5 hours might be enough for some but up to 8 hours might serve most. In my practice, the first question I ask my clients when we are discussing sleep is “how do you feel in the morning?”. Ultimately I believe that sleep quality is underrated - who cares if you “slept” 9 hours if you wake up exhausted every morning? According to Dave Asprey in his new book Headstrong, if you get really good at sleep you might be able to get away with as few as 5 hours a night....let's leave that for another day. For now, let's explore exactly how this all works.
It turns out that even one sleepless night will negatively impact your ability to resist the Monday morning box of Krispy Kreme donuts in the office kitchen. Put a bunch of those nights together which, by all accounts an increasing number of us are, and you are looking at the double whammy of weight gain along with your body’s stubborn refusal to release the fat you’ve already got. Whaaaaat????? Here are some of the mechanisms at play in chronic sleep deprivation:
Lack of Sleep Affects Your Hormones
Sleep deprivation leads to an increase in ghrelin (hunger hormone) and a decrease in Leptin (the hormone that signals that the larder is full and that it’s safe to burn fuel for energy). This imbalance alone can lead to weight gain.
Lack of sleep also increases insulin resistance which lowers glucose tolerance - that means you are less able to metabolize carbs and sweets…. remember this…it’s important.
Your Cortisol production will increase, which not only can lead to an increase in body fat, but also an increase in inflammation, the new bad boy of pretty much any disease you can think of. As if that's not bad enough, too much cortisol too often will negatively impact your ability to build and preserve lean muscle mass, which in turn lowers your resting metabolic rate and makes it harder for you to exercise.... still with me?
Okay so you feel hungrier, you are less able to burn stored fuel for energy, you can’t process carbs and sugar, your muscles are shrinking and you are inflamed…..it gets better, check out what’s happening in your brain:
Studies were done using brain imaging techniques to try and understand what was happening in the brain. The images showed that in sleep deprived individuals who were shown pictures of food the morning after their sleepless night, there was an increase in activity in their amygdala (a primitive part of your brain - think of it as your onboard teenager who only wants to do what feels good consequences be damned) and a decrease in activity in their frontal cortex (your onboard adult who weighs decisions and considers consequences)…. can you see the freight train coming yet?
So now we have a sleepy brain that is craving junk food and doesn’t have the willpower to resist it connected to a body that is unable to control its hunger or properly process the incoming calories and is primed to hang on to everything it already has stashed…. not a pretty picture.
I'll bet you are ready to read about what you can do to improve your sleep.
Here are 12 tips to get you started:
So there you have it 12 hacks to try - but one last thing - if you wake up bleary eyed every morning and your partner won’t talk to you because your snoring kept them up all night - do yourself a favor and head over to the nearest sleep clinic to assess the issue and what can be done about it. The good news, is that once you deal with said sleep issue and lose a few pounds, you may stop snoring and, if sleep apnea is an issue, it too may resolve. That and your relationship will be infinitely better.
The impact of sleep deprivation on food desire in the human brain http://www.nature.com/articles/ncomms3259