The Effect of Sleep on Body Weight


Obesity is a major epidemic in the United States with almost 71% of U.S. adults over the age of 20 being overweight or obese. Additionally, almost 21% of children between the ages of 12 and 19 are considered obese and 17% of 6- to 11-year-olds and 9% of 2- to 5-year-olds are fighting the same battle. Diet and exercise play a huge role in this problem, but many people do not realize that sleep is a large factor as well.

Sleep deprivation is very common with a reported 50 million to 70 million adults suffering from a sleep disorder. Over 35% of adults report that they get under 7 hours of sleep each night. This lack of sleep has serious consequences such as fatigue, but it may also have an impact on one's weight.

Better Sleep Equals Lower Body Weight

Studies have shown that sleep duration is negatively associated with BMI and waist circumference, suggesting that the longer a person sleeps, the smaller their waist and lower their BMI tend to be.

In fact, people sleeping about six hours per night tend to have a waist circumference over 1 inch larger than those getting nine hours of sleep. A lower amount of sleep has also been linked to lower levels of beneficial cholesterol and a higher likelihood of obesity, which comes with many comorbidities.

Additionally, studies have found that sleeping more on the weekends could positively impact one's weight. People who slept an additional two hours on weekend days than weekdays have been found to have a significantly lower BMI than those who do not catch up on their sleep over the weekend. Sleep deprivation has a strong influence on hormone levels, including increasing ghrelin, which increases hunger, and decreasing leptin, which helps your body know it is full.

Sleep and Your Waistline

Sleep allows your body to function properly. If you don't get enough, your self-control and willpower will suffer, which will likely cause you to make unhealthy eating choices. Biologically speaking, a lack of sleep disrupts important hormones and metabolic function. If you lose as little as 30 minutes of sleep every night, you can disrupt your metabolism just enough to gain weight.

For every half-hour of sleep debt that you get during weeknights, your risk for obesity and insulin resistance is increased by up to 39% after one year. This means if you should be getting eight hours of sleep each night but only get seven, you could raise your risk of obesity by 34% and increase your chances of insulin resistance by 78%.

Studies have also shown that people who sleep only five hours a night tend to gain almost 2 pounds a week because they eat more calories throughout the day. Alternatively, adults and children sleeping nine hours a night tend to keep their weight the same and eat fewer unhealthy foods.

If weight loss is your goal, it is important to make sure you are getting enough sleep, otherwise, your dietary interventions to help you lose weight may be compromised.

How to Know If You Are Getting Enough Sleep

The amount of sleep that people are getting is on the decline. about one third of Americans get under seven hours of sleep each night, and over 83 million adults in the U.S. are sleep-deprived.

In addition to weight gain, not getting enough sleep can result in diseases such as type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome. It can also interfere with thyroid hormones and promote inflammation in the body. Sleep deprivation can affect the immune system similarly to physical stress and illness, which helps explain why sleep deprivation is tied to an increased risk of chronic disease and acute illness.

If you are not sure if you have sleep deprived, go to your bedroom in the afternoon to take a nap and hold a spoon over the side of the bed. Place a metal tray next to the bed so when you fall asleep, the spoon will fall out of your hand and hit the tray and wake you up.

If this happens in under five minutes, you're severely sleep deprived. If it takes 10 minutes, you could still likely use more sleep. However, if you stay awake for over 15 minutes, you are likely well rested.

Try to Get Eight Hours of Sleep a Night

How much sleep you need will depend on your age, your level of activity, and your overall health, but most people need around eight hours of sleep each night. Keep in mind that this means more than just being in bed for eight hours, you have to actually be asleep for that amount of time.

You can use a fitness-tracking device to give you the data you need each night to help you determine what time you need to go to bed to get a full eight hours of sleep. If you need to improve the amount of sleep you are getting, take a look at your sleep hygiene. This includes your sleeping environment, your regimen prior to going to bed, and the schedule of your exposure to light.

Getting enough exposure to bright light throughout the day will help regulate your circadian rhythm and ensure that your body is producing the right amount of melatonin.

In the evening, limit your exposure to light by turning off electronic devices and switching to low-wattage light bulbs. Using candle light is a good alternative to artificial light and can help you go to sleep faster.

If you are able to get enough sleep, you will be more likely to lose weight and stay healthy. Keep in mind that sleep is as important as diet and exercise when trying to maintain a healthy weight.

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