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Unexplained Weight Gain? It Could Be Linked to Sleep

Unexplained Weight Gain? It Could Be Linked to Sleep

Most people know the formula for weight loss includes cutting calories and exercising. But there’s now significant evidence pointing to an equally critical component of weight loss: adequate sleep.

Sleep plays a role in almost every bodily process. Regularly slacking on sleep affects our hunger/satiety hormones while simultaneously causing inflammation in the body. Dr. Chris Hammond, Neurologist and Sleep Specialist, shares more about how sleep directly impacts weight.

Lack of Sleep Causes Metabolic Derangement

Sleep loss changes the timing and release of appetite-controlling hormones. The stomach secretes a hormone called ghrelin that tells the brain you’re hungry. During sleep deprivation, ghrelin is released in larger amounts. As the stomach fills, the body releases the satiety hormone leptin to signal appetite suppression. But when sleep deprived, leptin gets released in smaller amounts. With the changes in ghrelin and leptin levels, the body feels hungrier and doesn’t receive the proper signal that it’s full.

“The hormone alterations caused by sleep loss leads to less satiety and overconsumption of carbohydrate-rich foods,” says Dr. Hammond. “For these individuals, obesity is common and directly related to metabolic derangement.” He adds that lack of sleep also causes daytime sleepiness which discourages physical activity. “These individuals are at a risk of glucose intolerance, a pre-cursor to diabetes.”

Lack of Sleep Increases Physiological Stress Response and Inflammation

Another problem that happens when we’re sleep-deprived is increased cortisol production and inflammation. Too much inflammation in the body deregulates our immune system, which leaves us more susceptible to infections.

Additionally, people who regularly sleep less than six hours per night are at an increased risk of developing cancer. This daunting fact has led the World Health Organization to classify overnight/ shift work as an IARC 2A, or probable, carcinogen.

Dr. Hammond adds that inflammation in the body is associated with an increased risk of heart attacks and stroke.

Quantity and Quality are Both Important

Everyone should prioritize getting seven to eight hours of sleep, but Dr. Hammond also urges people with disordered sleep patterns to seek help. Nocturnal movement disorders and sleep apnea are examples of problems that impair sleep continuity. “Sleep fragmentation impedes the generation or maintenance of desired sleep architecture,” says Dr. Hammond. Sleep architecture refers to the stages of sleep shown to regulate our metabolic, hormonal, and immune mediated systems.

Taking Action to Improve Sleep

The best plan for better sleep is to maintain a sleep schedule. This includes regular, sleep-conducive behaviors one to two hours before bedtime like low-level lighting and avoiding screen-time which inhibits endogenous melatonin production.

Dr. Hammond shares a few other habits to practice before bed:

  • Avoid large meals and alcohol three hours prior to bed.
  • Put away worries and do something relaxing before bed, such as meditation or reading.
  • Avoid work-related activity or heavy drama before bed.
  • Have a cool sleep environment (67 degrees is ideal).
  • Create an environment that’s dark and free of noise. If noise is unavoidable, consider white noise production.
  • Rise from bed consistently at similar times, even on your days off.
  • Plan to go to bed when you feel like you can fall asleep. The cardinal rule for simulation control technique to that you don’t lie awake in bed for more than 15 minutes.
  • To the mind, equate your bed with sleep; not worries, news or drama.
  • Limit caffeine consumption to morning time and avoid long naps.
  • Exercise regularly, but not too late in the evening that it may inhibit sleep.
  • If you still struggle to fall asleep or stay asleep, schedule a visit with a your primary care physician or consider visiting a specialist for a sleep study.