The last few weeks I have been doing a detox with another doctor in my office. Over this last week in particular I have been averaging five hours of sleep per night and actually gained two pounds! Royally irritated, I made sure to sleep a solid nine (yes, nine!) hours on Saturday and Sunday and felt much healthier…plus I lost three pounds. I fully realize that weight fluctuates but it prompted me to really explore the weight-sleep connection.
Our sleep-wake cycle is controlled by the hypothalamus in our brain. This same little region also controls metabolism. Research shows that how much you sleep and the quality of sleep you get correlates with your weight and your appetite. The hormones in particular are cortisol, growth hormone, leptin, and ghrelin.
If you can’t fall asleep or wake often, then your cortisol is usually elevated (which leads to abdominal weight gain) and your growth hormone is lowered which reduces cellular repair. Additionally, leptin decreases and ghrelin increases causing an increased, more ravenous appetite leading to snacking and unhealthy choices.
In a joint study between the University of Wisconsin and Stanford, researchers found that those who slept less than eight hours per night had abnormal hormones levels and higher levels of body fat. It’s true that you need your eight hours of sleep every night!
What’s more is that sleep apnea greatly contributes to weight gain as well because the sleep quality is poor and oxygen levels are lowered which actually causes very high levels of leptin leading to leptin resistance. This means the cells stop responding to leptin and you gain weight because you always feel unsatisfied or hungry.
If you find it difficult to lose weight and feel hungry after meals or crave unhealthy snacks then get between seven and nine hours of sleep each and every night. You read that right…seven to nine hours.
First, figure out how much sleep you need. Ideally (on a vacation or time off) you would sleep as much as you need until you level out to a consistent amount. Many people start off sleeping nine, ten, or eleven hours then adjust down to a consistent seven or eight.