Sleep Deprivation

How a Lack of Sleep Can Cause Weight Gain

The fast-paced nature of the world today means that, more often than not, sleep has become a luxury rather than a necessity. While there are some obvious negative side effects to a lack of sleep, scientific studies have recently identified a correlation between an inadequate amount of sleep and an inability to lose weight.

Research suggests that a healthy and consistent sleeping pattern contributes to regulating the hormones responsible for suppressing hunger and overeating, if this is compromised through a lack of sleep, the imbalance can prove an obstacle to weight loss.

Sleep, or the lack of, can have a profound effect on body weight and, in particular, the hormonal changes that promote weight gain. This is especially true of the secretion of leptin, ghrelin, and insulin – all of which work together to regulate appetite. If this balance is somehow disrupted through a lack of sleep, it is very probable that weight gain will follow.

Effects of sleep deprivation

Researchers at Bristol University carried out a study into sleeping patterns and found that those who had an average of five hours of sleep a night produce 15% less leptin and 15% more ghrelin, when compared to those who had the recommended eight hours. Leptin is a natural appetite suppressant which essentially notifies the body to stop eating once it has received enough calories. The reduction in the production of this hormone due to a lack of sleep can lead to feelings of hunger and an increased appetite. Over a longer period, the lack of leptin being produced by the body can lead to leptin resistance. This means that the brain becomes almost de-sensitized to the effects of leptin and can no longer process the concept that the body is ‘full’. This miscommunication of bodily signals serves almost as a green light for overeating.

The negative effects of this decrease in leptin is further compounded by the increased production of ghrelin, the hormone that promotes appetite levels. Secreted by cells in the lining of the stomach, an over-production of ghrelin sends signals to the body to eat in order to store energy, irrespective of whether the body needs this extra energy or not.

The imbalance of hormones is only the tip of the iceberg, however. Further studies have also found a strong link between a lack of sleep and decrease in the body’s natural reserve of serotonin- the neurotransmitter that helps the body to feel happy and relaxed. If the body is not producing enough natural serotonin this leads to mood swings and a craving for fat-rich foods and carbohydrates such as chocolate, crisps and cheese. In fact, a lack of serotonin in the brains of those suffering from depression has been linked to the increased likelihood that these sufferers will eat compulsively.

In a world where fast, fatty foods are readily available at the press of a button, the imbalance of our body’s own appetite regulatory system can have dire consequences if ignored. We may be able to stave off fatigue in the short term by suppressing it with coffee or other such caffeine-based stimulants, but can we really ignore the disruption a lack of sleep is causing to our metabolic health? In order to maintain long term good health, we must be willing to put down our phones, close our laptops and switch off for eight hours every night.