Diet-to-Go Blog
  1. Sleep and our Weight

    We know a lack of sleep can make us unfocused, lethargic and grumpy. But did you also know a lack of sleep can make us gain weight? Studies have shown that there is a direct link between sleep deprivation and weight gain. The primarily culprit: our hormones. Ghrelin and Leptin are the two hormones associated with sleep that impact our eating behaviors.

    Our body needs sleep: this is the time when we repair and rebuild bone and muscle tissue as well as release and regulate growth and appetite hormones. And when we don’t get the sleep we need our body produces elevated levels of ghrelin and decreased levels of leptin. This hormonal imbalance causes us to crave simple carbohydrates and high-fat foods. It also weakens our satiety level: we eat but don’t feel satisfied. We eat more. We gain weight.

    What exactly are Ghrelin and Leptin?

    Our endocrine system is a powerful thing. At any given time this system is producing and secreting a complex concoction of hormones in the bloodstream, which impacts almost every bodily function. Among the most influential over our hunger are Ghrelin and Leptin.

    Ghrelin is an appetite-stimulating hormone released mostly by the stomach. When ghrelin levels are up, people feel hungry. In opposition is leptin. Leptin is considered a satiety or fullness hormone and is released by our fat cells that sends a message to the brain that the body has enough food, and the person feels full; low levels of leptin signal a threat of starvation in the brain and increase our appetite.

    How does Sleep impact Ghrelin and Leptin Levels and Ultimately our Weight?

    The effects of lack of sleep on weight gain are far-reaching. When we don’t get enough sleep our ghrelin and leptin levels get all out of whack. Sleep deprived bodies produce elevated levels of ghrelin and decreased levels of leptin. So that’s why when you’re really tired and you feel incredibly hungry but no matter how much you eat, you never feel full. So you continue to eat, trying to achieve that full feeling. Ultimately all that excess eating leads to weight gain.

    In addition to dealing with destructive internal eating cues, a sleepy body is also less likely to exercise. If you are tired, the idea of getting in a daily workout is often the last thing we find the energy to do. And preparing a healthy meal? Forget about it: a sleep deprived body is more likely to grab the first thing they see (unless of course they have Diet-to-Go). And over time all those unhealthy meals leads to weight gain.

    How much sleep do we need?

    Everyone’s sleep needs are different. Some people function just fine on six hours a night while others need 10 to qualify as a good night’s rest. We also need to consider the quality of sleep. If you’re getting up every two or three hours, then no matter how long you stay in bed, your body is not getting the all the recovery benefits of sleep. So while it varies slightly from person to person, the National Institutes of Health recommends, adults get between 7.5 to 9 hours of sleep per night.

    To determine if you are sleep deprived (although if you have to question it, you’re probably not), ask yourself:

    More often than not am I…

    • Tired during the day?
    • Using caffeine to get through the day?
    • Waking up not feeling refreshed or rested at all?
    • Getting drowsy while driving or watching TV? 

    If the answer to any of these is yes, then you probably aren’t getting enough sleep.

    Tips on How to get Enough Sleep

    To sleep longer and more contently, try these techniques:

    • Set a regular bedtime. And stick to it (even on the weekends).
    • Turn off the TV and shut down your computer before bed. Studies have shown that the bright light from the TV and/or computer screen can surpress the body's production of melatonin, the hormone in the body that helps regulate a person's sleeping and waking hours.  
    • Establish a relaxing bedtime ritual. Get your mind and body ready to rest by establishing a routine that allows you to de-stress and unwind. Maybe it’s meditation, or a hot a bath or even just losing yourself in a good book. Over time this ritual will signal to your brain it’s time to go to sleep soon.
    • Limit caffeine. Keep your morning coffee and other caffeinated beverages to a daytime activity and stop drinking them at least six hours before bed.
    • Exercise. Working out can improve sleep in lots of ways, including by relieving muscle tension. However, don't work out right before bed, since exercise may make you more alert. Try to finish any activity at least four hours before you hit the sack.
    • Make your bed a sleep haven. Don’t work, eat or watch TV in bed; keep your bed and your bedroom clean of daytime activities and stresses.


    Sleep is our body’s time to rest, revamp and rebuild. If sleep is cut short, our body doesn’t have time to complete all of the phases needed for tissue repair and the release of the hormones that regulate our appetite: ghrelin and leptin. So when we’re sleep deprived our hunger hormones are out of balance and we feel the need to eat more. We don’t feel satisfied so we eat even more. And ultimately, we gain weight.

    Author: Sue Ridgeway

    Overall Health & Nutrition
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