In this busy modern age, sleep tends to get tossed into the “luxury” category. We forego sleep for a variety of reasons, ranging from social outings to late nights at work. With our hectic schedules, sleep drops lower on our list of priorities, but it really shouldn’t! In this article, we’ll answer a question commonly asked by the sleep-deprived, “Can lack of sleep really make me fat?” Keep on reading to know the definitive answer.
What happens when you don’t get enough sleep?
Pulling an all-nighter from time to time is okay, but don’t make a habit out of it. Quality sleep helps our body heal and recover. Lack of sleep, however, can lead to problematic health issues.
Affects your mood
Cutting yourself short on sleep doesn’t just make you sluggish in the morning. Chronic sleep deprivation can cause some very real side effects such as fatigue, inability to concentrate, moodiness, increased stress levels and anxiety, and a higher risk for developing depression (1).
Your body simply needs time to recharge. One study found that even one night of sleep deprivation was correlated with decreased energy expenditure the next day (2). Pair that with the tendency to make not-so-great food choices when tired, this can easily lead to weight gain over time.
Lack of sleep can actually contribute to weight gain! A great deal of research has concluded that not getting enough sleep on a regular basis could keep you from fitting into your favorite pair of jeans (3). Even when you think you’re getting through the day just fine with only a few hours of sleep (and a triple espresso!), your body doesn’t necessarily agree. The human body requires rest for peak functioning, which means that adequate sleep is vital to your overall health.
So, about those food choices. How exactly does sleep deprivation come into play?
It’s very simple – when you’re not fully rested (and likely grumpy and tired), grabbing whatever is easiest and most comforting is usually the end result.
One study found that sleep-deprived participants had less self-control around “rewarding” snacks (such as cookies and candy), even within 2 hours of a meal containing 90% of their daily calorie allotment. This effect was particularly noticeable in the late afternoon and early evening. After 4 days of sleep deprivation, participants chose snacks that had 50% more calories than the ones they chose during a normal sleep pattern (4).
Poor sleep can even cause your hunger pangs to get out of whack. Research has found that people with chronic lack of sleep displayed higher plasma ghrelin (the “hunger” hormone) levels than people with adequate sleep (5). Since ghrelin is the hormone that alerts you when it’s time to eat, increasing circulating ghrelin levels make it more likely to overeat at meals and snack excessively. Even a single night of inadequate sleep can have this effect!
Another side effect of sleep deprivation is a pretty scary one. Some evidence shows that not getting enough sleep can lead to the development of insulin resistance (4). Ultimately, poor insulin sensitivity can contribute to weight gain because insulin levels in the blood increase, causing excess glucose to be stored as fat. Additionally, insulin resistance is often a precursor to type 2 diabetes (6).
According to the National Sleep Foundation, adults need 7–9 hours of sleep each night to be fully rested (7). This can vary from person to person, but it’s a decent guideline to aim for. Nearly everyone has a terrible night of sleep occasionally, while many people struggle with lifelong sleep disorders.
How to get more sleep at night?
If your sleep has been less-than-restful lately, here are few strategies that can help:
This age-old practice is known for relaxation. Just 15 minutes of meditation can help ease away stress and clear away the rush of thoughts and worries that keep you up at night. If you’re a newbie to meditation, just Google it! There is a wealth of information online about the different forms of meditation and breathing techniques. If you’re constantly glued to your phone, there are plenty of apps as well!
People who exercise tend to sleep better and longer. Getting into a steady workout routine can help build up a solid sleeping schedule. Exercise doesn’t have to mean hitting the gym or doing something super intense – it can be anything from going out for a walk or run, doing yard work, or just doing light aerobics at home!
Make sure you’re getting enough magnesium
Magnesium is a mineral that’s vital for optimal brain, heart, and muscle health (8). It helps the body relax and wind down after a long, hard day. Magnesium is found naturally in leafy vegetables, fruits, nuts, whole grains, fish, and more, so it’s important to have a healthy, well-rounded diet.
However, if you’re not getting enough magnesium from food, taking a high-quality magnesium supplement is an option. Check out our Intelligent Labs MagEnhance dietary supplement. It’s the best magnesium complex available and contains 3 different kinds of magnesium – Magnesium L-Threonate, Magnesium Glycinate, and Magnesium Taurate. These are bioavailable forms of magnesium which will help raise your body’s magnesium stores, boost learning and memory, and help improve sleep.
The main reason for drinking caffeinated drinks is to wake up and stay awake, so naturally, caffeine can cause problems at bedtime. Limiting caffeine consumption to the morning hours (or cutting it off at a certain time during the day) can help metabolize the caffeine in plenty of time before you are ready to go to sleep. Of course, there are the lucky people who can metabolize caffeine very quickly, even consuming it right before bed! However, most of us aren’t that blessed.
If you just HAVE to have your after-dinner cup of coffee, try switching that cup to decaf. If you just like having a hot drink to sip on while winding down after a long day, a cup of herbal tea will do the trick without keeping you awake all night.
Sleep in comfort
Ever sleep on a REALLY bad bed? Even going to sleep at a decent hour, an uncomfortable bed can mess up your sleeping pattern, causing you to toss and turn all night in an attempt to find a comfortable spot. Most likely, you’ll wake up in the morning tired, grumpy, and with random aches and pains. Something as simple as a lousy bed can certainly keep you from getting as much rest as you need.
Make sure your bed is comfortable and you’ve got nice pillows (not those old ratty, flat ones!). Keep enough (or as few) blankets around as you like, so you don’t wake up in the middle of the night freezing or sweating. These may sound like small changes, but they can do wonders when it comes to getting a good night’s rest!
Read a book
Love books? Overcome your lack of sleep by reading a few chapters from a good book. Focusing on the storyline can help to refocus your mind away from the worries and stress of the day by letting you “escape”, ultimately leading to a restful night of sleep.
Listen to music
While heavy metal might not be the best choice for bedtime, music can have a very relaxing effect. Much like meditation and reading, music helps your mind to start winding down and forget about thoughts and anxiety that tend to keep you awake at night.
So, yes, the lack of sleep can indeed make you fat…
Sleep deprivation can lead to unhealthy results, including weight gain. Getting quality sleep at night is important, so you have enough energy to face the next day. Hopefully, the tips we’ve shared in this article will help you catch better quality sleep. Have some sleep-related stories to tell? Do share in the comment section below!
(1) Hanson JA, Huecker MR. Sleep Deprivation. [Updated 2020 Jun 26]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2020 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK547676/
(2) Benedict, C., Hallschmid, M., Lassen, A., Mahnke, C., Schultes, B., Schioth, H., . . . Lange, T. (2011). Acute sleep deprivation reduces energy expenditure in healthy men. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 1229-1236.
(3) University of Chicago Medical Center. (2016). Sleep loss boosts hunger and unhealthy food choices.
(4) Broussard, J., Ehrmann, D., Cauter, E., Tasali, E., & Brady, M. (2012). Impaired Insulin Signaling in Human Adipocytes After Experimental Sleep Restriction. Annals of Internal Medicine Ann Intern Med, 549-549.
(5) Patel, S., Malhotra, A., White, D., Gottlieb, D., & Hu, F. (2006). Association between Reduced Sleep and Weight Gain in Women. American Journal of Epidemiology, 947-954.
(6) Mayo Clinic. (2017). Insulin and weight gain: Keep the pounds off.
(7) National Sleep Foundation (n.d.). How Much Sleep Do We Really Need?
(8) de Baaij, Jeroen H F et al. “Magnesium in man: implications for health and disease.” Physiological reviews vol. 95,1 (2015): 1-46. doi:10.1152/physrev.00012.2014