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Does Lack of Sleep Lead to Weight Gain?

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Posted Jun 15th, 2016 in Articles, General

Does Lack of Sleep Lead to Weight Gain?

We all know that we should be getting approximately 8 hours of sleep a night, but with busy schedules it often seems difficult to find that time. In fact, only 30% of the Canadian population gets a sufficient amount of sleep each night. Sleep deprivation can lead to more than just falling asleep at your desk – it causes weight gain, which increases your risk of obesity and obesity-related diseases. The Medical Station explores the key reasons why increased weight can be caused by lack of sleep. 


Guest Author: Hailey Adler. Hailey has recently graduated from the University of Guelph, where she majored in Biomedical Sciences. In the fall she is excited to begin a Master’s of Science in Anatomical Sciences at Queen’s University. Hailey’s aspiration is to attend medical school and some of her other passions include nutrition, dance and teaching. Hailey is excited to be interning at the Medical Station and looks forward to expanding her knowledge about the medical field and getting to work with such a diverse, interprofessional team.

How Does It Work?

As you may have guessed, one of the key reasons why lack of sleep is associated with obesity is that when you are awake more hours, there is more time to eat. Furthermore, a study in 2004 showed that people who restricted their sleep to 4 hours a night had increased appetite throughout that day. 

Sleep deprivation has also been shown to lead to less healthy food choices. An Inadequate amount of sleep causes the body to crave high calorie foods, such as sweets and fast food, since the body needs this quick energy source to continue to operate.

The Role of Hormones

While we’re sleeping, our bodies switch into repair mode in order to keep us growing and working well. When we fall asleep the hormones secreted in our body change so these repair mechanisms are activated. One of the major hormonal changes that occurs is an increased secretion of Leptin, a hormone that tells our brain that we’re full or satiated. On the other side of the spectrum is a hormone called Grehlin, which tells your brain that you are hungry. Multiple studies have found that less sleep is associated with lower levels of Leptin and higher levels of Grehlin, which can explain why there is an increase in appetite during the day. 

A Vicious Cycle

Not only can less sleep lead to weight gain and obesity, but being overweight can lead to difficulties sleeping, causing a vicious cycle. Obesity can lead to many different sleep disorders – it is most notably a major risk factor for Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA). Sleep disorders can affect both the quality and quantity of sleep. If you believe you may be suffering from a sleep disorder, consider contacting The Medical Station and seeing one of our family physicians.

Obesity is also associated with higher risks of mental illness, such as anxiety and depression, which are also tied to insomnia and insufficient sleep. Additionally, a chronic state of inflammation in the overweight and obese populations is linked with decreased ability to achieve the desired number of hours of sleep. Therefore, it appears as though obesity leads to lack of sleep which can cause further weight gain.

How Much Should We Sleep?

For the average adult, the National Sleep Foundation recommends 7-9 hours of sleep each night.  Younger children require more sleep – as much as 14-17 hours daily for newborns as they require this time for crucial growth and development. It is important to note that these numbers are guidelines and there are natural variations between people. The Medical Station advises that each individual get to know how much sleep makes them feel well-rested and healthy.

After reading this you may be thinking of sleeping all day in order to not gain weight, but that is not the most practical or effective solution. Over-sleeping can also lead to weight gain due to decreased physical activity; so it is important to find a healthy balance.

While our lives can be very busy, The Medical Station promotes obtaining an adequate amount of sleep each night. Registered Dietitians, Social Workers, and Family Physicians at The Medical Station are all equipped to work with you to help manage sleeping habits, address weight management, and improve overall health and wellbeing.

We hope that through learning a bit about some of the risks associated with too little sleep, you are able to move towards making more conscious decisions about your health and sleep patterns.

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