Are Your Sleep Habits Making You Fat?

Not getting enough sleep at night may be leaving you with more than being tired or sluggish in the morning; it might be leaving you with more inches around your waistline. A study by the Mayo Clinic suggests poor sleep is associated with weight gain and a higher likelihood of obesity in adults and children. Sleeping only four hours nightly compared to 8-10 hours may contribute to an additional 10 lb. weight gain annually. Late-night snacks are often high carbohydrate, calorie-dense foods.

Blame the hormones
It is not simply poor eating habits that are causing the weight gain; the lack of sleep can also cause an imbalance in the hormones ghrelin and leptin. They regulate feelings of hunger and being satisfied. John Keeley, Clinical Education Specialist with the Sleep Center at Shore Medical Center, said there are several reasons why poor quality sleep can lead to weight gain. "Normally, you would find it difficult to go eight hours without eating anything during the day, but a normal sleep cycle will allow you to sleep all night comfortably without feeling the need to eat."

Keeley said ghrelin, the hormone that tells you to keep eating, is suppressed at night. Leptin, the hormone that tells you to stop eating, takes over during deep sleep when the body's circadian rhythm operates properly.

"When you do not have good sleep hygiene, meaning you don't keep a regular sleep schedule or your sleep is interrupted due to a sleep disorder such as sleep apnea, ghrelin continues to pump. It tells your brain to eat, and the leptin that tells your body to stop eating never gets the chance to kick in," Keeley explained. "It is double trouble; not only will the lack of sleep keep you eating, but it also has you reaching for all the foods that are loaded with sugars and carbs because your body is in search of a quick energy boost." He said matters could get even more complicated when that lack of sleep evolves into a lack of energy, making it more challenging to establish a good exercise regimen.

Bring on the high carbs and sugars
Being sleep-deprived is like being on a collision course to gain weight. If you feel exhausted and in survival mode, it might feel easier to choose ready-to-eat foods often loaded with sugars and carbs instead of the healthier salad. Keeley said, "When you do not have enough quality sleep, the body will crave high carb and high sugar items, seeking the energy to keep going. The body's low energy will have you reaching for the chips, ice cream or other high sugar, heavily processed snacks that are easy to grab and require little or no prep. A proper sleep schedule helps lay the groundwork to control those impulses." Keeley said this is a necessary tool for proper weight management.   

Slowing metabolism        
According to Keeley, that battle between the ghrelin telling you to keep eating and the leptin telling you to stop eating will result in a slower metabolism. "A good circadian rhythm helps you sleep. Keeping an eating schedule also helps regulate these hunger hormones and gives your metabolism the ability to do what it is designed to do. An eating schedule needs to be in sync and part of your circadian rhythm. Your body knows when sleep is expected, and likewise, you need to train your body to understand when to expect food and when it is done for the night."

Our body is like an engine; feed it when it needs energy and then give your body a chance to run properly with sufficient rest and process the food you took in during your waking hours. Keeley said, "Keeping a regular eating schedule will help your body better know how to process the food you eat. Without knowing when to expect the next meal, your body will store calories as a survival mechanism."

Interrupted sleep is troublesome
Some people will go to bed at 10 p.m. with every good intention of getting a quality night's sleep. But sleep apnea might wreck those plans. Keeley explained, "People suffering from a sleep disorder, such as sleep apnea, can wake up multiple times during the night because of snoring or difficulty breathing. Sometimes, they do not even realize how many times during the night they wake up. That interrupted sleep pattern, even if the individual does not remember waking up during the night, keeps them from entering that needed deep, restorative type of sleep, and they will start the day feeling tired." Keeley added, "Just like the person who stays up late at night and does not get the proper amount of sleep, the hormones ghrelin and leptin do not have the opportunity to do their job properly when someone is suffering from a sleep disorder."

Do you wake up tired every morning, snore loudly, or wake up choking or gagging, no matter what time you go to sleep at night? If so, a sleep study can help determine if a sleep disorder is the reason. Contact the Shore Sleep Center at 888-633-6818 or John Keeley at 609-820-9822.