We hear all the time how important sleep is. But for most people the advice to get more sleep is falling on deaf ears. The threat of disease associated with short sleep is just too far off in the future to motivate most people to hit the sack earlier.
Maybe this will make a difference: Not only is lack of sleep associated with obesity, recent studies show exhaustion makes people eat more.
Not a little more either: Scientists estimate that lack of sleep increases calories by anywhere from 300 to 400 a day, with people having a taste for high-fat “naughty” foods.
A study from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that individuals who are sleep deprived eat more overall and consume more fat, notably saturated fat.
In this new study, researchers used a population that was not overweight and analyzed their food intake following short sleep of four hours a night versus habitual sleep of nine hours.
As a group, the subjects increased calorie intake by 300 calories a day, with women experiencing the greatest increase in food intake, clocking a 15.2 percent increase in calories compared to a 9.2 percent increase in men. If sustained, this behavior will result in gaining more than two pounds of fat a month.
Both men and women favored fatty foods when they were sleep deprived, but the desire to splurge was greatest in female participants. The women in the study increased their fat and saturated fat consumption by 39 percent and 61 percent, respectively. Protein intake also increased for both groups, while carbohydrates were not affected. Both men and women burned less calories following short sleep than habitual sleep, not because activity levels dropped but more likely due to a decrease in body temperature.
Other studies show that when people are sleep deprived, adrenal hormones such as epinephrine are reduced, resulting in a drop in core body temperature. Body temperature is a key driver of metabolic rate, with people with higher temps being leaner and having significantly greater daily energy expenditure.
Take note that this study is based on data gathered from individuals who suffer a limited number of short sleep nights; they are not chronically sleep deprived, as many people are.
This is an important distinction because when you burn the candle at both ends over the long-term, stress hormones and glycemic control are negatively affected. People typically have an increase in cortisol, which further triggers food intake and suppresses physical activity. Basically, it makes us lazy and hungry for high calorie foods.
The uptick in cortisol leads to lower insulin sensitivity so that glucose metabolism is impaired, meaning the body isn’t able to use the sugar in the blood effectively and it is more likely to get stored as body fat.
Strategies to prevent the misery and help you get more sleep include the following:
#1: Adopt an early-to-bed and early-to-rise sleep pattern. If possible, commit to a 9:30 pm to 6:00 am schedule, or something similar.
#2: Start a grateful log in which you write down one thing you are grateful for before you go to bed. This can be very calming and helps you look at the world in a positive way before going to sleep.
#3: Turn off all screens an hour before bedtime. If you use your phone for an alarm, set the phone to “alarm only.”
#4: Try to stay on your sleep schedule on the weekend. Partying it up on the weekend will throw the whole schedule off and make it harder for you to go to sleep at your set bedtime on Sunday night.
#5: Take magnesium. It’s an anti-stress mineral that gets depleted when stress hormones are elevated—an automatic side effect of too little sleep.
St-Onge, M., et al. Short Sleep Duration Increases Energy Intakes but Does not Change Energy Expenditure in Normal-Weight Individuals. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2011. 94, 410-416.
Chen, X., et al. Is Sleep Duration Associated with Childhood Obesity? A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Obesity. 2008. 16, 265-274.
Patel, S., et al. Association Between Reduced Sleep and Weight Gain in Women. American Journal of Epidemiology. 2006. 164, 947-954.