As if the frustration and groggy feelings resulting from insomnia were not enough, there is now significant evidence that sleep disturbance can also result in weight gain. Of course, weight gain is not always unwelcome or necessarily malicious. However, it may not be what the doctor ordered for a significant portion of us. A recent study from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute at the University of Texas provides background information for understanding this important phenomenon.
This study demonstrated that after a bad night, the body needs more energy to physiologically balance the tiring waking phases of the night. Sleep deprivation typically leads to increased brain activity. The brain compensates for this change by increasing hunger. Normally, when we eat enough, the brain produces the hormones ghrelin and leptin. The release of these hormones leads to a feeling of satiety which reduces the likelihood you would keep eating.
With all of this activity and inconsistency, the hormones that provide satiety are downregulated. Increased feelings of hunger lead to compensatory eating behaviors: one eats more than is actually needed by the body. In a short time, the intake exceeds the need and within a week this can lead to an uptake of up to one kilogram of body weight. None of this is welcome news to those who are watching their weight for any reason. Especially since the effects of insomnia are already crushing by itself!
So, how did the researchers come to this conclusion? The study subjects at the University of Texas were required to reduce sleep duration by one hour per night over a five-night period. This simulation often reflects a regular working week – in which the sleep deficit is then made up at the weekend. After just five nights, results showed that insufficient sleep led to significant weight gain. On average, almost 0.82 kg of body weight was added per week.
There is still hope for those of us who are pulling out hair over the findings! The research also concluded that a healthy, normal sleep pattern leads to a loss of unwanted body weight – but this process takes much longer. Consistent, sufficient, regular sleep can go a long way to reverse this trend. Investing in self-care, proper nutrition, proper sleep hygiene and an environment conducive to healthy sleep will contribute to much more than that well-rested feeling. So, if you’re feeling hungry after a restless night of sleep, enjoy some of our food for thought to help you digest!