Sleep Loss and Weight Gain

Sleep. We all do it. And sure, some appear to function on less than others, but there comes a point that without it, we feel lousy, our bodies function poorly from a physical and mental standpoint, and our motivation wanes.

Science backs up common sense, suggesting the sleep-deprived have a tendency towards obesity, are at increased risk of Type II diabetes (insulin resistance), and even have a higher risk of dying in general {Sigurdson, 2007}.

If you look a little deeper, you’ll discover there’s a pair of hormones, leptin and ghrelin, which have been called the “yin and yang” of energy balance regulation.

Leptin, released from fat cells to decrease hunger and boost metabolic rate (keeping you from getting fat), is reduced by sleep loss {Spiegel, 2004}. Ghrelin, an appetite-boosting hormone released from the stomach, is increased in the sleep deprived.

Further still, a condition called sleep apnea—in which one experiences pauses in breathing that impair sleep quality—prevents your mind from getting the rest it needs, so you wake up looking and feeling tired, even if you went to bed with plenty of time to spare. A few giveaways that you may have it: snoring, long pauses between breaths (your spouse will have to discover this), waking up with a headache (from lack of oxygen), and feeling exhausted even after getting a full night’s sleep. People who are overweight are also more likely to suffer. Aside from the fatigue, sleep apnea can create cardiovascular risks, including irregular heartbeats and an increased risk of diabetes. If you suspect you might have it, get a sleep study done! A CPAP machine is the cure and well worth looking into.

So, from a physique standpoint, getting enough quality sleep is key here. But how do you manage that with such a hectic schedule – all too common nowadays?

Here are a few suggestions:

  • Limit alcohol and caffeine: Many people think that a nightcap before bed will help them sleep, but while it may make you fall asleep faster, alcohol reduces your sleep quality, disrupting your sleep cycles.
  • Stick to a regular schedule: Having a normal round-the-clock ebb and flow in bodily function is so important biologically. Try very hard to fall asleep and wake up around the same time every day of the week.
  • Limit electronic devices in the bedroom: The bed should be reserved for two things, and TVs, laptops, mobile devices and tablets aren’t included. Cut yourself off from the electronic world at least a half hour before bed.
  • Herbal tea or supplements: Tea is a natural way to wind down at night (make sure it’s caffeine-free) and the combination of magnesium and zinc is a good relaxation tool to try too. Don’t get the cheap variety cut with calcium though. Buy the magnesium and zinc separately. There’s a product called ZMA that works, but it’s cheaper to buy the two on their own. Be aware, too much of a good thing can be bad. Excessive zinc intake can lead to nausea, loss of appetite and diarrhea. Depending on your intake of red meat and other dietary sources of zinc (oysters being one), a max dose of 25mg a day is plenty.

Sigurdson, K. and N.T. Ayas, The public health and safety consequences of sleep disorders. Canadian journal of physiology and pharmacology, 2007. 85(1): p. 179-83.
Spiegel, K., et al.Brief communication: Sleep curtailment in healthy young men is associated with decreased leptin levels, elevated ghrelin levels, and increased hunger and appetite. Annals of internal medicine, 2004. 141(11): p. 846-50.

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Mitch Calvert is a Winnipeg-based fitness coach for men and women like his former self. Heavyset in his 20s, he lost 60 pounds and now helps clients find their spark and lose the weight for life.