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The Connection Between Getting Enough Sleep and Healthy Weight

An image of a woman laying in bedYou may already know that you need a good night’s rest to function properly the next day, and for your body to heal. But there is also a close correlation between sleep and healthy weight. Increasingly, literature on this topic strongly suggests that how much you sleep and how much you weigh go hand in hand.

In 2005, only about a quarter of Americans got a good eight hours of sleep each night. But at the same time, over 60 percent were overweight. That is more than half the population. Furthermore, of adults above the age of 18 years, 23.9% were obese and a further 3% were regarded as extremely obese. And this increase in weight is not only prevalent in the USA. To make matters worse, the rise of obesity in children has seen a similar increase. In 2018, CDC statistics showed an astonishing 13.4% of children between the ages of two and five years suffered from obesity.

There are many factors involved in obesity, including lack of exercise and a diet high in sugars and processed foods. But other factors are involved. And one of these, and the topic of this discussion, is the role of sleep and healthy weight.

Sleep and Healthy Weight: The Literature

As mentioned, the rise in obesity is not limited to adults only. Taking all factors into consideration, many researchers turned to investigating a decline in sleep as a possible factor. What they found was quite astounding.

The past decades have seen a decline in the hours of sleep we get. And this includes children. We are more likely to go to bed late and wake up to an alarm clock. According to a Gallup poll, in 1942 only about 10% of people got less than six hours per night, but since 1990, that figure has been closer to 40% of people.

Our busy lifestyles have seen us watching the clock due to work and school commitments and falling into bed only when we have accomplished what we set out to do that day. In the end, we tend to try and function with fewer hours. And not only fewer hours of sleep, but less quality sleep as well. As this has happened, so has our weight increased, along with associated risks like diabetes and heart disease.

The Correlation Between Sleep and Healthy Weight in Children

Many studies on obesity in children find a link between their hours of nightly sleep and the incidence of obesity. The majority of these studies have factored in their obesity risk, diet, and exercise. And even considering these factors, they have found a close relationship between sleep and healthy weight in children.

One of these, conducted in Britain, found that when children aged three get fewer than ten hours of sleep a night, they stand a 45 percent higher risk of obesity by the time they reach seven years of age. A similar study conducted in the US agreed. Furthermore, these children’s obesity risk was further increased when they were introduced to solid foods before four months or when their mothers experienced depression while pregnant. Further adding to a lack of sleep was the incidence of infants watching television.

An image of a child awake in bedAnd deprivation of sleep and healthy weight while a child could affect you as an adult. A New Zealand study, for example, followed the progress of newborns until they reached the age of thirty-two years. This study on sleep and healthy weight suggested that those adults who did not get enough sleep as children had a fifty percent higher risk of obesity as adults.

Current trials in both the US and New Zealand are looking at new ways to amend this shortfall in sleep and healthy weight to reduce obesity in children. The focus is on educating parents about developing better sleep and feeding habits in babies to prevent obesity as their children grow older. Although not yet complete, the results from these studies have thus far proved promising.

The Correlation Between Sleep and Healthy Weight in Adults

Many studies on obesity and sleep in adults look at people who lose sleep due to their jobs, like hospital nurses, for example. These people, who tend to work rotational shifts, often experience circadian rhythm disruptions that result in less sleep and poor sleep quality. One such study, conducted in the US, found that these people are more at risk of obesity and diabetes.

Interestingly, some studies show that getting too much sleep may also not have a beneficial effect on your weight. But according to these studies in the US, Canada, and Europe, people sleeping for longer than deemed normal usually do so because of conditions related to obesity. These conditions include depression, cancer, or sleep apnea. Many of these conditions, including sleep issues and obesity, have a link to adrenal fatigue as well.

What Happens When You Don't Get Enough Sleep

Too little sleep also adds stress to your body. This results in the NeuroEndoMetabolic (NEM) stress response staying in gear all the time. This system describes how different organs and systems activate to handle stress. However, when it is on all the time, your body does not get a chance to rest and recuperate. This can lead to adrenal fatigue, hormone imbalance, and a host of other health issues.

Long-term, this chronic stress could lead to an increase in stress hormone production at the cost of the production of other hormones needed for other processes. In your brain, for example, you may have a decline in the ‘feel good hormones’ like dopamine or melatonin that induce relaxation and sleep.

Furthermore, your Neuroaffect Circuit, composed of your gut, brain, and autonomic nervous system, is also heavily influenced by hormones. In turn, it influences your circadian rhythm. But due to this disruption in hormone production, your circadian rhythm is unable to properly regulate your brain’s neurotransmitter function. And this can cause a cascade of imbalances that contribute to stress, weight gain, weight retention, and other health problems.

How Your Sleep Might Influence Your Weight

As noted above, not getting enough quality sleep could affect your hormones. Two of these control your hunger pangs. You may find yourself with food cravings due to lower leptin levels and higher ghrelin levels. Ghrelin is an appetite-stimulating hormone while leptin is a hormone that tends to indicate satiety.

Another factor that promotes obesity is that those who sleep less tend to have more time on their hands to eat. Many people who sleep too little tend to opt for unhealthy snacks later in the evening. Furthermore, those who sleep less tend to eat more takeout, according to a Japanese study. People with a regular sleeping pattern tend to have meals at regular intervals while their sleep-deprived counterparts do not.

An image of a woman in bed holding her ears and an alarm clock showing the time is three forty-five in the morningSomething else to take into consideration is that those who do not get adequate sleep tend to feel fatigued during the day and may feel too tired for physical activity or for cooking healthy meals. Both staying active and eating healthy, planned meals help maintain a healthy weight. They also aid other health issues.

People who are obese also tend to have lower core temperatures than their healthy-weight counterparts. A lower core temperature means a slower metabolism. A slower metabolism means the body is not converting food into energy at the pace it should. As a result, the body stores more glucose as fat. And this, of course, leads to weight gain.

Sleeplessness, Cortisol, and Weight Gain

Sleep helps our cortisol levels drop, signaling to the body it is safe and can rest. On the other hand, too little sleep increases your cortisol levels, signaling to your body that it is in danger and needs to be on high alert. When this happens, your body wants to conserve fuel as best it can. And this it does by storing extra fat as a reserve in case you need it in times of famine. But of course, there is no famine. Instead, you just end up in a state of chronic stress and with extra pounds.

However, there are steps you can take to get better sleep and lose weight.

Tips for Better Sleep

So, what should you do to start rebalancing your hormones, lower your cortisol, and start to lose weight? Get more quality sleep! Here are some tips to get you started:

  • Try and get into bed at the same time every night.
  • Rise early so that you will be tired at bedtime.
  • Keep your bedroom dark.
  • Try to reduce your stressors or find ways of managing them.
  • Drink during the day and avoid drinking water a few hours before bed.
  • Try and get some physical exercise during the day.

In Closing

Enough sleep and healthy weight are both important for your health. Studies show that getting too little sleep can be a major risk factor for obesity, both for children and adults. And this makes sense, because sleeplessness puts your body into a state of chronic stress, increases cortisol levels, and leads to hormone imbalances that add to weight gain. Creating a routine that lets you get more than seven hours on a daily basis is the best solution.

If you would like to know more about how to deal with weight, sleep, or stress-related issues, the team at Dr. Lam Coaching can help. We offer a free* no-obligation phone consultation at +1 (626) 571-1234 where we will privately discuss your concerns and various options. You can also send us a question through our Ask The Doctor system by clicking here.

© Copyright 2022 Michael Lam, M.D. All Rights Reserved.

Dr. Lam’s Key Question

Yes! Adequate sleep and healthy weight do promote adrenal health. Not getting enough sleep leads to hormone imbalance and weight gain, and these both add extra problems for your adrenals. Getting enough sleep, in contrast, may help you lose weight and support adrenal function.

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