Research reveals a link between poor sleep and weight gain

If you are struggling to lose weight, it might be time to look at your sleep patterns.

“It seems intuitive that if someone is not sleeping well and is under stress, then sticking to a weight-loss program will be more difficult.”

Research reveals a link between poor sleep and weight gain

An American study by NHS in 2011 investigated the relationship between sleep, stress and people’s attempts at weight loss.

“It seems intuitive that if someone is not sleeping well and is under stress, then sticking to a weight-loss program will be more difficult,” they said.

Further research has since uncovered very similar results.

“If you’re sleep-deprived, we know you’re potentially more emotionally fragile, so you’re more likely to make impulsive food choices”, says clinical diabetologist Professor Eleanor Scott of the University of Leeds.

“A typical situation would be when people have small children who are awake in the night – they’re going to crave carbohydrate-rich foods the next day. They give us an instant energy boost when we’re feeling tired and make us feel good. We know sugar makes us feel better, but it’s only a temporary fix. So, sleep deprivation alters our emotional choices”.

This lack of motivation to eat ‘healthy’ food is very much biological, says Scott.

Lack of Sleep Equals Major Weight Gain

“We know if you don’t get enough sleep it alters your hunger. There have been studies where people rate how hungry they feel, and when you ask people who’ve had a disturbed night’s sleep, their hunger increases and their ability to feel full after eating actually decreases. And we know some of the main hormones that are involved in controlling hunger are impacted. Leptin normally tells us when we’re full, but reduced sleep tends to cause lower levels of leptin, which is why people will still feel hungry.”

“We can say if you’re not getting enough sleep on a regular basis, it strongly looks likely it will cause a problem,” says Professor Scott.

Dr Erin Hanlon, Research Assistant Professor at the University of Chicago, and her colleagues also wanted to see if sleep deprivation impacts chemical signals which, in turn, make people crave high-carbohydrate and high-fat foods.

They found that when sleep-deprived participants’ eCB levels were increased and amplified, the participants started reaching for unhealthy snacks because they didn’t feel full.

Dr Hanlon says, “I personally feel confident there is a link between sleep deficiency and increased feeding, and moreover that sleep deficiency is one of the contributing factors in the rise in obesity”.

“In large population studies, insufficient sleep (be it poor sleep quality or short sleep duration) is related to significantly worse long-term health outcomes, including higher incidence and prevalence of diabetes, increased prevalence of obesity and cardiovascular disease, and poorer mental health outcomes”, explains Dr Iuliana Hartescu, a member of Loughborough University’s Clinical Sleep Research Unit.

Her advice for those wanting to improve their diet and fitness levels includes making sure you’ve got your sleep routine under control, “When you’re more rested, you’re more likely to be physically active, more likely to eat at the right times of the day, and more likely not to let fatigue interfere with your motivation to stick to your diet.”

Weight Loss Helps With Excessive Daytime Sleepiness

A study from Deakin and Monash Universities and the Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute. Weight loss has proven to reduce sleepiness during the day.

“We found that daytime sleepiness clearly improved after participation in weight-loss interventions. And that’s all kinds of weight loss including surgical, diet or increased physical activity,” Miss Ng said. Read more about the study here. 

Mums sleep less than 5 hours a night

The Healthy Mummy’s Global Mums Health Survey showed that over 30% of mums get 5 hours or less sleep on average each night, and almost half of the mums experiencing a significant amount of stress – we know this to be a big concern and contributing factor to weight gain and obesity.

The Nurses Health Study found that women who slept 5 hours or less per night had a 15% higher risk of becoming obese, compared to women who sleep 7 hours per night.

Mum 0f 5 shares her personal experience with fatigue

Aussie Mum Unleashed, Deidre Turner, a mum of five little boys, including two sets of twins, shares her experience with fatigue and healthy choices.

Deidre shares, “Recently I had someone without kids tell me that 5 little kids (including 2 sets of twins) plus a full-time job was ‘no excuse’ when I said I was struggling to exercise and eat well because I was so tired. The reality is though, a healthy young person who has no children can’t understand the level of tired I’m talking about, they have no context for what it means to be so deep in your bones, never get enough sleep tired. I’m not referring to all people with no kids, those with chronic health conditions and sleep disorders would know extreme tiredness all too well.

“The word ‘tired’ encompasses such a broad scale of sleep deprivation, which can have vastly varying results. So I am hereby creating my own 5-point scale of tiredness, rated from 1 (not tired at all) to 5 (extremely sleep-deprived) and I’m going to list what I experience at each level. I know that everyone’s sleep needs are different, but those of us who are mums have experienced ‘tired’ beyond what we used to pre-kids.”

So without further ado, here’s Deidre’s tiredness scale:

Level 1: Not tired at all:

Find it easy to awake in the morning, doesn’t need caffeine to feel alert, good energy throughout the day, find it easy to make good food choices, plenty of energy for meal prep and looks forward to exercise. Falls asleep easy at night, mood mostly positive and calm and resilience is high. Less bothered by the little things, can see the funny side of life, enjoys life.

Level 2: Slightly tired:

May take a little waking up in the morning but alert after a short period of time, helped by caffeine. Mostly good energy throughout the day, with a slump in the afternoon at around 3pm. Mostly good food choices, though prefers quicker to make meals. A bit reluctant to exercise but feels good once started. Mostly positive and resilient though may struggle with children and other challenges in the evening as energy sags.

Level 3: Somewhat tired.

Finds it harder to wake, may snooze alarm clock, feels reliant on caffeine to wake up properly, slow to get started. Energy ok in the middle of the morning, feeling sleepy after lunch, can’t concentrate as well in the afternoon. May be short-tempered with children in the later afternoon and struggle to focus on tasks at work. May be forgetful or irritable or emotional when things go wrong. Eyes feel dry and a bit sore, struggles to maintain a positive mood. Looks forward to bedtime, less energy for tasks such as meal prep, playing with children or exercise. More likely to choose convenience food options or sugar/caffeine hits to keep energy up.

Level 4: Quite tired:

Finds it difficult to wake, may sleep through crying child or alarm, sleeps in too late in the morning, struggles to get organised, forgetful. Doubles up on coffee trying to get alert but remains feeling foggy and flat. Low mood, struggles to see the bright side of life, less likely to engage in conversation or want to be around people. Cranky with kids or find co-workers bothersome. Emotional, more prone to an outburst of tears or anger. Gritty, sore eyes with a constant low-level ache behind them. Struggles with motivation, everything is an effort, does the bare minimum, more likely to drive even short distances rather than walk, chooses take away or convenience foods. She spends the whole day thinking about bed, but struggles to fall asleep because edgy and anxious.

Level 5: Extremely tired:

“Extreme difficulty waking, almost in tears from exhaustion that it’s morning and the day has to be somehow survived. No amount of caffeine helps. Either too tired to eat or binges on high sugar/fat foods to boost energy. I can’t even contemplate exercise. Functions at a bare minimum or not at all. Extremely forgetful, can’t concentrate or retain information. Extremely anxious, feels depressed and hopeless. Can’t see the point in anything, the world looks bleak and grey. Even the smallest task is a hassle. Struggles to function to the point where it’s not possible to go on. Prone to breakdowns and emotional outbursts; lashes out at loved ones. Trouble falling asleep due to high anxiety. Needs help (and consistently improved sleep) to get away from this level of sleep deprivation.

Deidre explains, “Before I had kids, the furthest along on this scale that I reached was a level 3, and I was always able to correct it by going to bed early and getting a good night’s sleep. Now I am a mum to 5 kids, that’s not an option. In the last year and a half, I have reached levels 4 and 5 tired when parenting my second set of twins, who are high-needs babies. One twin in particular faces challenges such as food allergies and asthma, the latter of which flares up at night. Reaching level 4-5 of sleep deprivation doesn’t happen after only one bad night of sleep, it takes weeks or months of built-up inadequate or broken sleep to reach that level of tired, which is why it is hard for others to understand just how bad it is.

“When I’m at a level 1 or 2, I have little difficulty exercising, even getting all 5 of my boys out with me and cooking nutritious meals. When I’m getting enough sleep, I feel like I can take on the world and I can keep up with my big workload no worries. With enough sleep, I am a high achiever and handle a lot.

“Without sleep is a different story. If I am at level 4 or 5 tired I am struggling to even function at all, let alone make time for self-care. All my energy has gone into being there for my twins in the night when they still need me. So when I say I’m too tired to exercise, what I mean is that I’m at a level 3, 4 or 5 tired; which means I’m struggling just to get by. When I am getting more sleep, I can do a better job of being healthy but right now I have to cut myself some slack. This level of tired won’t last forever and I will be the person I am at level 1 or 2 again-when my babies are sleeping better.”

Can you relate? 

Read more:

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