How Sleep Impacts Weight Loss or Gain

When we’re well-rested, our minds and bodies just seem to work better. When we’re really tired, everything’s harder. We get cranky, can’t focus, and sometimes get sick. Skimping on sleep long term can interfere with pretty much every aspect of your health—from your skin to your immune system, to your ability to maintain a healthy weight. Here’s how both your eating and activity habits suffer when you don’t sleep.

Hormones deficiency, appetite control appetite and food craving.

“A sleepy brain is the brain that craves,” Param Dedhia, M.D., director of sleep medicine and physician in the weight loss program at Canyon Ranch in Tucson, tells SELF. A lot of hormones and brain chemicals are responsible for regulating hunger cues, but the main players are leptin and grehlin. Leptin decreases your appetite, and grehlin increases it. When you don’t get enough sleep, leptin levels drop and grehlin levels rise, leaving you with a bigger appetite that can’t be tamed.

“These foods have a high caloric density,” Ojile notes, meaning they pack a lot of calories per bite, “which is almost a surefire way to gain weight.” In fact, the Sleep study showed that subjects who didn’t get enough sleep were taking in about 300 extra calories per day, Ojile says.

Sleep deprivation and weakened metabolism.

Not only are you eating larger quantities of unhealthier foods, your body’s also going to process them more slowly. Research shows that just a week of sleep deprivation can mess with metabolism, specifically interfering with the body’s ability to process glucose and leading to insulin resistance. Insulin resistance causes your body to store more sugar instead of breaking it down and using it for energy efficiently.

Exhausted body and consistent workouts.

Getting sufficient sleep is an important part of staying active and fit. “We’re seeing more professional athletes talk about incorporating sleep as part of their overall fitness program,” Ojile notes. That’s because we need sleep to stay active.

When we don’t give our bodies enough sleep, our movement patterns change, Dedhia notes. “If your body can’t repair, do you want to work out again the next day? Not so much,” he says. “You’re going to wait until the next day or some other time” when your mind and body feel more energized. If you continue to get too little sleep, you’re not going to hit the gym quite as often.

Healthy sleep is a solution to many conditions.

We all know how hard it is to get a good night’s sleep, but there are a few things you can start doing tonight to make a solid night of quality sleep more likely. Dedhia suggests creating a routine around bedtime that you look forward to each night. “Find a ritual, make it about you,” he says. Whether that’s reading a book, taking a warm bath, or lighting candles and listening to soothing music, set aside time for you to relax and wind down before bed.

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