by Guadalupe Orihuela
Can you remember the last time you had a good night’s sleep? Nowadays, most of us are not getting enough sleep due to being busy with school, work, and other aspects of our lives. According to data collected in 2014 by the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, 33.8 percent of Americans report sleeping less than 7 hours a night (Ogilvie & Patel, 2017). Even though most people have heard that getting enough sleep is important for their health, not all people are aware of how sleep deprivation could affect their appetite and food choices and potentially lead to weight gain. For instance, studies have showed that people who sleep less than 7 hours a night have a higher risk of obesity than people who sleep 7 to 8 hours a night (St-Onge & Shechter, 2014).
How does sleep deprivation increase hunger and weight?
1) Sleep deprivation may increase hunger and weight through altering the hormones responsible for hunger and satiety (Nedeltcheva & Scheer, 2014). The hormone responsible for increasing hunger is ghrelin, while the hormone responsible for suppressing appetite is leptin. Some studies have shown that sleep deprived individuals have low leptin and high ghrelin levels (Nedeltcheva & Scheer, 2014). High levels of the hormone ghrelin and low levels of leptin would lead to an increase in appetite, which could lead to an increase in food intake. This increase in energy intake could potentially lead to weight gain (Nedeltcheva & Scheer, 2014).
2) Another way in which a lack of sleep can lead to weight gain is by decreasing physical activity. This is due to how we are less likely to want to engage in physical activity if we are feeling tired due to not sleeping enough (Nedeltcheva & Scheer, 2014).
3) The last factor that could be contributing to an increase in calorie intake and weight gain is being awake longer gives us more time to eat (Ogilvie & Patel, 2017).
How can sleep deprivation affect our food choices?
Sleep deprivation can not only lead to an increase in hunger and overeating, but it can also affect our food choices and eating behaviors. For instance, a study showed that sleep deprivation could affect the parts of the brain that are associated with appetite and food choices (Greer, Goldstein, & Walker, 2013). In this same study, participants that had been sleep deprived had more cravings for high calorie, sweet, starchy, and salty foods compared to the participants that had not been sleep deprived (Greer et al., 2013). This could mean that not getting enough sleep can lead to more unhealthy food choices, which could also contribute to weight gain. Also, the time that someone goes to sleep could also affect eating behaviors. For instance, going to sleep later may be linked with an increased likelihood of skipping breakfast or increased snacking after dinner (Nedeltcheva & Scheer, 2014). In other words, the next time you are craving junk food, you may want to pay attention to your current sleeping patterns.
Does this mean sleeping more could help with weight loss?
Since sleep deprivation has been linked to an increase in hunger, altered food choices, and weight gain, people who are sleep deprived may have a harder time losing weight (St-Onge & Shechter, 2014). Therefore, it would be beneficial to include sleep as one of the many factors addressed when somebody is trying to lose weight. However, sleeping more is not the magical solution for weight loss, since a successful weight loss program has to take into account many other factors and barriers that could be contributing (Chaput & Tremblay, 2012). Even though sleeping more will not guarantee that people will lose weight, sleep deprivation still has a negative impact on our health, which is why it is crucial that we try to give it as much importance as we give the other aspects of our lives.
Chaput, J., & Tremblay, A. (2012). Adequate sleep to improve the treatment of
obesity. Canadian Medical Association Journal, 184(18), 1975-1976. doi:10.1503/cmaj.120876
Greer, S. M., Goldstein, A. N., & Walker, M. P. (2013). The impact of sleep deprivation on food
desire in the human brain. Nature communications, 4(1). doi:10.1038/ncomms3259
Nedeltcheva, A. V., & Scheer, F. A. (2014). Metabolic effects of sleep disruption, links to
obesity and diabetes. Current Opinion in Endocrinology & Diabetes and Obesity, 21(4), 293-298. doi:10.1097/med.0000000000000082
Ogilvie, R. P., & Patel, S. R. (2017). The epidemiology of sleep and obesity. Sleep Health, 3(5),
St-Onge, M. P., & Shechter, A. (2014). Sleep disturbances, body fat distribution, food intake
and/or energy expenditure: pathophysiological aspects. Hormone molecular biology and clinical investigation, 17(1), 29-37. doi:10.1515/hmbci-2013-0066
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