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Does Lack of Sleep Cause Weight Gain?

Patient struggling to sleep wonders does lack of sleep cause weight gain?

Diet and exercise are just two pieces to the weight loss puzzle. Genetics, behavioral health, major life events and even sleep play an important role. Getting enough sleep night after night can not only be the catalyst for a successful weight loss journey, but it can lead to other positive health outcomes.

There are several reasons why sleep may cause weight gain. Yale New Haven Health endocrinologist Brian Wojeck, MD, MPH, assistant professor at Yale School of Medicine, says one study shows sleep deprivation can lead to an increase in the “hunger hormone” ghrelin and a decrease in the “satiety hormone” leptin, resulting in an increased feeding drive.

That same study shows those who are sleep deprived tend to eat more calories and hormonal changes drive people to pick options that aren’t as healthy such as excess carbohydrates.

Another common cause of both weight gain and poor sleep is stress. An increase in cortisol levels caused by stress can increase appetite. In addition, those who are stressed may find themselves eating at night to comfort themselves.

Long term health impacts of better sleep

Establishing healthy sleep patterns will help address some of the causes of weight gain like hormonal changes and stress. However, it can also have a domino effect leading to other lifestyle changes and improved quality of life.

“People feel better once their sleep problem is treated. They’re energetic and can exercise, which is hard if you don’t have a lot of energy and that has an obvious metabolic benefit,” Dr. Wojeck said.

Both weight loss and sleep improvements can lead to other positive changes as well. For example, sleep apnea, which is a condition that causes people to temporarily stop breathing while they sleep, is usually found in patients who are overweight. Weight loss can improve or eliminate the need for treatments.

“You can resolve sleep apnea, you can resolve hypertension, you can get off insulin,” Dr. Wojeck said. “If you need one less thing, fantastic. We have accomplished a massive improvement in your life.”

How to get better sleep

Getting the recommended seven to eight hours of sleep per night for adults is easier said than done. If someone suspects they are suffering from a sleep condition like sleep apnea, the first thing they should do is reach out to their healthcare provider to get the appropriate testing and treatment.

For the average person struggling with sleep, Dr. Wojeck recommends assessing your sleep hygiene, a term used to refer to healthy sleep practices. Avoid screen time before bed and instead turn to a book or audiobook to help wind down.

If stress is causing you to toss and turn for 30 minutes or more, get out of bed and do something that’s not overly stimulating to occupy your mind, like knitting or Sudoku, in a low light environment . Return to bed once you start to get tired again. If you are struggling with sleep or weight, speak with your primary care physician who can help guide next steps and make a referral to the appropriate specialist if needed.