Lose Sleep, Gain Weight: The Link Between Sleep and Weight

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Not sleeping enough can do more than make you groggy the next day. It can also take a serious toll on your health—starting with your weight.

In the past several years, medical experts have confirmed a link between lack of sleep and weight problems, and a new study from the University of Chicago and the University of Wisconsin-Madison confirms this. Researchers conducted their study on two groups of overweight people. The first group slept for only five and a half hours each night, and the second group slept for eight and a half hours each night. The study found that while both groups lost weight, those who slept longer burned more fat, while those who slept less burned more muscle mass.

asleep at the laundromat 
Not getting enough sleep? Consistently sleeping fewer than seven hours a night can cause your body to hold onto fat, making weight loss difficult. Photo By Matthew Rice/Courtesy Flickr. 

In an interview with NPR, sleep medicine expert Dr. Michael Lacey of the Atlanta Sleep Medicine Clinic explained that lack of sleep not only decreases metabolism, but also interferes with the body’s natural production of the hormones ghrelin and leptin, which regulate appetite and satiation. Too little sleep causes the body to produce too much ghrelin, which makes you feel hungry, and not enough leptin, which makes you feel satiated or full. Staying awake longer than you should will make you feel hungry when you’re really not, and will lead you to eat at times you normally wouldn't. The longer you stay awake, the more tempted you'll be to snack, too. To make matters worse, most people staying awake too long reach for high-carb or sugary foods, which they're unlikely to burn off in the wee hours of the night.

Getting enough sleep will help your body burn fat and regulate weight. But how much is the right amount to get? Most sleep experts pinpoint seven to seven and a half hours as the magic sleep number. Sleep fewer than seven hours and you run the risk of fatigue and weight problems. Sleep too much and you put yourself at risk for cardiovascular disease.

Boston terrier sleeping 
Grab your favorite cuddle buddy and settle in for a full seven hours' worth of sleep. Photo By Vince Garcia/Courtesy Flickr.

A number of factors can keep us from getting enough sleep, from busy schedules to too much caffeine. If time isn’t an issue but you’re still having trouble falling asleep, check these problem areas:

Diet: What we eat influences how we sleep. Discover five foods that will help you sleep better—and five foods you should avoid.

Light: Too much light in your bedroom can interfere with your body’s natural production of serotonin, the hormone that regulates sleep. Reduce light pollution in your bedroom in a few easy steps.

Temperature: Your body needs to drop its core temperature before it can fall into a deep sleep. Lower your thermostat for better sleep.

Noise: Distractions, both visible and audible, can keep you up. Reduce clutter in your bedroom and use a fan or white noise machine to block out sounds.

Still having trouble sleeping? Try these 6 herbal sedatives; they’ll help you fall asleep faster.