Does Sleep Deprivation Cause Weight Gain?

How often are you able to enjoy a sound night of sleep? Do you toss and turn due to intense dreams? Are you plagued by anxiety and intrusive thoughts? 

Many people are unable to obtain the seven hours of rest required to enjoy a healthy lifestyle. 

Not only can this chronic situation lead to emotional issues such as depression and a lack of motivation, but it can have a very real impact upon your body mass index (BMI). Sleep deprivation has been directly linked to weight gain. 

Lack of Sleep and Weight Gain

There are several reasons why sleep is directly correlated to obesity in many instances. We will examine some common scenarios immediately below. 

Feelings of Lethargy Throughout the Day

Perhaps the most obvious result of poor sleep involves how you feel throughout the following day. Most individuals report lethargy and less desire to hit the gym. 

The problem here is that it’s much more difficult to become motivated to exercise. Even those who force themselves to remain physically active might not be capable of performing at peak levels. This can directly contribute to weight gain within a relatively short period of time. 

A Temptation to Eat Unhealthy Foods

A lack of sleep has also been linked to poor dietary habits. For example, it could be tempting to eat sugary foods to enjoy a "pick me up" during the day. The amount of coffee consumed can also increase, which can further disrupt sleep later on. 

If you’ve treated yourself to a donut and coffee with lots of cream – or other sugary, fatty foods -- the excess calories are inevitably stored as fat (both cutaneous fat as well as visceral fat). Those who feel properly rested are less likely to require such temporary fixes. 

Obesity and Obstructive Sleep Apnea

Numerous studies have found solid links between a lack of sleep, weight gain and obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). How do these three scenarios correlate with one another?

One key point involves how body fat increases the chances of developing OSA. Those who hold excess weight tend to develop a specific type of fat that accumulates around the neck. This is known as pharyngeal fat. 

Pharyngeal fat may cause an individual's airway to partially close when the muscles become relaxed. This is one of the reasons why it can be difficult for the body to obtain the proper amount of oxygen while sleeping – leading to pauses in breathing during the night (“apneas”). 

Also, fat deposits located around the abdominal cavity can restrict lung capacity. This can cause the airways to narrow even further and collapse. These are the main reasons why obese people are at a higher risk of being diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea. 

The Role of Cortisol

A final variable involves a hormone known as cortisol. The levels of this stress-related hormone may rise by up to 37 percent in individuals who experience chronic issues with sleeping.

  • Cortisol stimulates the body's ability to metabolize fats and carbohydrates; leading to increased feelings of hunger.
  • Elevated levels of cortisol may cause some to crave sweet and calorie-laden foods.
  • This hormone leads to feelings of tiredness and irritability, decreasing the chances you will  be motivated to exercise.

We can now see that there are many reasons why a lack of sleep can lead to significant amounts of weight gain. So, what steps can you take to restore a healthy balance?

Make the Right Lifestyle Changes

In truth, the first step involves recognizing that a problem exists. Poor sleep can be rather insidious, as it often develops as a long-term habit and may soon be thought of as "normal". This can make it somewhat difficult to make the appropriate changes. 

Whether you are struggling with the effects of OSA or you are simply concerned about weight gain, there are several strategies which can point you in the right direction.

Monitor Your Sleeping Habits

It is first a good idea to keep track of your sleeping patterns. How many hours can you obtain on a regular basis? Do you tend to stay awake until the wee hours of the morning? Detecting the signs of a problem is the best way to formulate a remedy. 

Embrace a Healthier Diet

Diet plays an important role in controlling weight gain as well as simply feeling better. Avoid foods high in calories, saturated fats and preservatives. Cut back on unhealthy beverages such as soft drinks. Consume plenty of fruits and vegetables and eat lean meats as opposed to being tempted by fast food. 

Get Plenty of Exercise

We are all aware that exercise is one of the best ways to build lean body mass and to lose weight. However, physical activity can also stimulate the production of beneficial hormones such as serotonin and norepinephrine. These both play an important role in the development of a healthy sleep cycle.

Treat the Symptoms of Obstructive Sleep Apnea

If you snore loudly and feel sleep-deprived during the day, you may have obstructive sleep apnea. You can easily do an at-home test to find out if this is the cause of your fatigue. 

Talk to your primary care physician or a sleep specialist about your sleep problems – and discuss a sleep apnea test.