Sleep: A Foundation Commonly Forgotten

Good Sleep Is Essential to Weight Loss and Maintenance

According to Dr. Frank Lawlis in The Sleep Solution Workbook, about 63% of Americans are sleep deprived. Historically, prior to Thomas Edison’s invention of the light bulb the average American slept 10 hours a night. Presently, the average American sleeps 6.9 hours on weeknights and slightly more on weekends. We are a sleep-deprived nation.

There are many reasons that sleep deprivation is detrimental to our health, but one key issue is that sleep deprivation promotes obesity.

Lack of Sleep Can Cause Weight Gain

It is safe to say from research that a lack of sleep can cause weight gain. Biggest Loser acknowledges this correlation, and sleep is addressed in all contestants from day one. Every contestant experiences a sleep study to determine sleep issues. Most, in fact, have sleep apnea, a chronic condition that disrupts sleep and, in extreme cases, can be fatal.  

For me, the time of day that used to be the most difficult was early afternoon. I would experience fatigue and reach for either coffee or food. What kind of food would I reach for? Chips, a doughnut, or even some French fries were just some of the items I would grab. It was a vicious cycle; the more tired I was, the more I grabbed something that would bring me some quick energy. Sleep deprivation slowly but surely deteriorates your health, and weight gain is the result of our bodies attempting to find extra energy.

Sleep Deprivation Drives us to Unhealthy Options

Dr. Susan Zarfarlotfi is quoted in an article, Coping with Excessive Sleepiness, “When you have sleep deprivation and are running on low energy, you automatically go for a bag of potato chips or other comfort foods.” She is the clinical director of the Institute for Sleep and Wake Disorders at Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey.

This behavior does help us gain some momentary energy, but eventually we gain weight. Continuing on this path of weight gain and sleep deprivation, our health suffers.

Our General Sleep Needs

The average person needs 7-8 hours of sleep each night. If you are a five-hour a night sleeper and you add those extra two hours, you will drop weight. How sleep deprivation affects our weight loss efforts has to do with hormones.

Sleep, Hormones and Consequences Explained

In the same article, Coping with Excessive Sleepiness, two hormones are discussed that are key in this process: ghrelin and leptin. These two hormones impact energy balance. When we are sleep-deprived we have a higher level of ghrelin, which is also the hormone that promotes eating. When we are sleep-deprived ghrelin pushes us to eat so we can have energy to keep going. Leptin is the hormone that regulates long-term energy balance, which lowers food intake. Once we understand how these hormones work, it makes sense that a greater level of ghrelin equals weight gain while greater levels of leptin promotes weight maintenance. It is all about balance.  Adequate sleep raises our leptin levels, helps us maintain healthy diet and weight maintenance.

The bottom line?  One way to help your health journey is to begin to get enough sleep, and to assure it is quality sleep.  If you or a loved one has interrupted snoring during the night or is always exhausted, you might want to talk to your doctor about checking the quality of your sleep.  Adequate quality sleep is essential for your weight journey.