Is sleep deprivation making you gain weight?

I see this most often in shift workers (think healthcare, law enforcement), new parents, chronically stressed and those with other types of chronicimg_3665 illness (it’s difficult to sleep when you have pain or other issues going on in your body.)

Our body is naturally wired for deep, restful (REM) sleep at night, when it’s the darkest. It’s the circadian rhythm. That’s hard to fight when it’s biology. Another issue is schedules are typically thrown off at night. Do you eat normally scheduled meals or exercise on a regular routine when your sleep patterns are thrown off? Most of us don’t. And that favors weight gain.

That deep, REM sleep our body so desperately needs is massively disrupted in the above scenarios. Without enough of it, we experience an increase in the stress hormone, cortisol, which favors fat cell growth.There is also an increase in the production of the hormone ghrelin, the one that tells your body to EAT, while a decrease in the production of leptin, the one that tells your body you don’t need to eat anymore. In a fairly recent study, when individuals were deprived of just a few hours of sleep over 5 days, they consumed as much as 300 extra calories per day and gained an average of 2 pounds. That’s a lot! And it was high sugar, high fat carbohydrates they wanted. Ouch!

So what can you do? Try these tips:

  1. Stay in bed, regardless. Read a fictional novel IN BED 30 minutes before your established sleep time. In the beginning, you may be reading until 3 o’clock in the morning but rest assured, your body is receiving 60% of the rest it needs even if you are AWAKE. This time will eventually get earlier and earlier until you can’t even finish the first page. Be aware of electronics and make sure they have a night setting without that back lighting that triggers your brain to stay alert. If you get out of bed, that goes down to 0%. If you start clock watching, tossing and turning, or doing whatever frustrating thing we are all guilty of when we can’t sleep, it’s 0%. Be aware, I said FICTIONAL NOVEL. No self helps here or you will fall asleep thinking about how you need to improve your life and and your wrongdoings. No bueno. Save that for another time.
  2. Establish a night time routine, around one hour before bedtime. Just like we do for children! Get your pjs on, take a nice bath or shower, get your teeth brushed, whatever you need to do to start telling your active brain to SLOW DOWN. No alcohol here, it actually disrupts restful sleep. But a nice cup of decaf tea can help. And please, put the dang phone away! I have been known to stick mine on airplane mode from time to time when I REALLY need to hang it up.
  3. There are natural options to help with sleep. Melatonin is one I’ve tried, although I don’t use often because there are so many on the market and it’s hard to know one from the other. So unfortunately, I can’t speak to brand here. But your doctor may be able to help you out. Valerian root has been talked about in the holistic health world for years, but I do not typically recommend this due to warnings about possible liver damage. My favorite are certified pure therapeutic grade essential oils because they support the body’s natural ability to wind down and promote a restful night’s sleep. Specifically, lavender and vetiver. I diffuse lavender most nights and the restful blend, a blend made with lavender, vetiver, sandalwood, ho wood, and others for my children every night. For more about that, contact me using the links below.

P.S. If you’ve been looking for support, you’ve come to the right place, request to join my online support group for all things nutrition and weight loss support.

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Jillian McMullen, CSOWM, RDN, LDN

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