Contrary to popular belief, diet and exercise may not be the only critical components affecting your waistline. When busy, a lot of people tend to cut back on something they feel like they don’t need as much: sleep. However, studies are revealing that lack of sleep may result in weight gain, including other potentially adverse health effects.
By depriving yourself of sleep, you affect the two hormones responsible for controlling hunger. When you’re hungry, the hormone at play is called ghrelin, which is responsible for making you feel hungry and slows down energy expenditure. The other hormone involved, leptin, is responsible for helping you feel full and for regulating energy expenditure.
After a meal, your body releases this hormone and binds to parts of your brain, telling your body you're full and increases your metabolism to burn more calories. Ideally, you want your body to have high levels of leptin while having low levels of ghrelin to keep you feeling full and less hungry.
In a study, participants’ hormone levels were measured after two days of either getting a full night of sleep versus only 4 hours per night. The results were more than surprising. Leptin (responsible for satiation) levels dropped significantly while ghrelin (responsible for hunger feeling) levels spiked for those who were sleep deprived. As a result, participants’ hunger sensation increased dramatically. Even after eating meals, those who were sleep deprived continued to feel hungry due to the strong influence of these hormones. In addition, those who slept less craved more sweets and junk food, which also contributes to a greater increase in weight gain.
But does any of this science gibberish actually make a difference when you get on the scale? Well, let do some math instead. Those who are sleep deprived tend to eat on average an extra 400 calories per day. Since a pound is equivalent to 3500 calories, it will only take a little over a week to gain a pound just because of losing out on sleep.
Sleep deprivation may also be a new risk factor for Diabetes II. Studies are discovering that with even partial sleep deprivation, your body’s glucose tolerance, or ability to remove sugar from the blood, is reduced by over 40%! These conditions are sufficient enough for a doctor to diagnose a patient as pre-diabetic and with a greater risk of diabetes solely as a result of sleep loss. Fortunately, by getting a good night’s sleep we can reduce this risk for a healthier lifestyle.
We need to rethink what we do for good health. Not only are diet and exercise important to leading a healthy lifestyle, but sleep is essential too. In order to ensure that your body’s hormones are at proper levels, you should be getting at least 7.5 hours of sleep. This will prevent you from craving sweets the next day, and in addition, will help you lose weight over the long run.
Richard was raised in California and is currently studying Psychology and Biology at UC Berkeley. He likes to play soccer and go to the gym. He hopes to be a sports medicine surgeon one day.
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