“In the United States 18% of adults are estimated to get less than 6 hours of sleep, which equates to 53 million short sleepers who may be at risk of associated obesity,” — Dr. Kristen Knutson 

Getting enough sleep may just be as important for good health as nutrition and exercise.  This is even more the case when it comes to maintaining a healthy weight. Sleep deprivation can add to your waistline.  That is not in doubt.   

When you are short on sleep, you tend to crave sugary foods for a quick energy boost.  It turns that there is a hormonal reason for it.  There is a link between sleep deprivation and overeating and consequently weight gain. 

There are two hormones that regulate appetite and how much we eat.  Ghrelin is the hunger hormone that stimulates appetite.  Leptin on the other hand is the satiety hormone that sends signals to the brain to let you know that you are full.  When you are sleep deprived, your ghrelin level goes up, causing you to overeat, while your leptin levels fall.  The latter makes it harder to tell when you are full. 

The net result is that the more sleep you lose, the more food your body craves and the more weight you gain.  

In the Nurse’s Health Study, 60,000 women were followed over 16 years.  Those who slept 5 hours or less per night had a 15% higher risk of obesity compared to women who slept for 7 hours per night.  Short sleepers had a 30% chance of gaining 30 pounds over the study period.  

In 1999, researchers at the University of Chicago restricted 11 healthy adults to 4 hours of sleep per night.  After just six days, their ability to process blood glucose became impaired, in some cases to the level of diabetics.  A follow up study found short sleepers made 30% more insulin than normal sleepers.  Excess insulin can cause insulin resistance which leads to weight gain, metabolic syndrome, and a sleuth of chronic diseases. 

If you eat right, exercise regularly and are still struggling to lose weight, the solution may be in getting enough sleep.  But how much sleep is enough sleep?   

According to the National Sleep Foundation, adults aged 18 to 64 need 7 to 9 hours of sleep a night.  Children and adolescents need a bit more.  Adults 65 and older need 7 to 8 hours of sleep per night. If you are struggling to get enough sleep, try sleep hygiene. 

Sleep hygiene refers to practices and routines that help you to get a restful night’s sleep.  Try some of the following.  

  • Have a consistent bedtime  
  • Avoid stimulants such as caffeine within 3 hours of bedtime  
  • Your bedroom should be at a comfortable temperature around 65 to 68 degrees Fahrenheit  
  • Have a relaxing bedtime routine such as taking a bath or reading a book  
  • Avoid daytime napping  
  • No TV or electronic gadgets in the bedroom  
  • Avoid strenuous exercise too close to bedtime  
  • If you are in bed but asleep after 30 minutes, get out of the bedroom and do something relaxing until you are ready to fall asleep  

Ife Ojugbeli, MD, MBA.