Hormones, Sleep and Weight Loss
Being short on sleep can affect weight. Too little sleep over consecutive days triggers a spike in cortisol, the stress hormone. Rather than processing sugars into energy, when stressed, the body stores fat.
Sleep duration has an influence on the metabolism, particularly one’s ability to metabolise sugar. When food is digested our bodies release insulin, which processes sugar in our blood. Lack of sleep inhibits insulin, resulting in sugar being converted to fatty acids. Fatty acids accumulating long term is a primary cause of weight gain.
The University of Chicago says sleep deprivation makes you, “metabolically groggy.” It’s not so much that if you sleep, you will lose weight but that too little sleep slows your metabolism and contributes to weight gain.
Sleep influences two appetite hormones, Leptin and Ghrelin. Leptin is a hormone that decreases appetite. It sends the brain a signal to ‘stop,’ when you’ve eaten enough. Ghrelin is the hormone that stimulates hunger. An overstimulated ghrelin hormone feels like cravings, obsession and rarely being satisfied after a meal.
1024 adults were put through a sleep study. Those with shorter sleep had lower Leptin levels and higher Ghrelin levels. They are hungry but it also takes longer to get the ‘satisfied’ and ‘stop’ feeling. This supports what I observe in the clinic. My clients reveal that cravings and portion sizes increase with high stress.
My philosophy on ‘sleep’ and ‘weight loss’ is to satisfy both. Long periods of starving and overtiredness are not part of a functional lifestyle. Eventually the body will give symptoms to slow us down and create balance. Slowing down doesn’t mean inaction, it means allowing time to think, to rest and be present at meal time. If meals are eaten when rushed and exhausted, it’s worth reflecting on how that is working for you.
By eating consciously, we notice fulfilment much quicker, and thus consume less.
One solution for food and sleep habits is to be present. Show these important parts of life the respect deserved. Eating is giving the body vitamins, enzymes, antioxidants and minerals needed to support the body. Sleep allows your mind to process thoughts and emotions. Tissue repairs while you are sleeping. Hormone levels become balanced; affecting nearly every function in your body.
It is clear that sleep is important for losing weight. A lack of sleep can change hormone function making it more likely we will crave unhealthy food. The reverse is also true. When you get a good night sleep and find healthy ways to manage stress, appetite can stabilize.
Lack of Sleep and Hormone Cycle
- Lack of sleep
- Ghrelin goes up, resulting in food cravings
- Leptin goes down, resulting in not feeling full
- Feeling tired and craving sugar for energy
- Insulin response slows with poor sleep meaning sugar gets converted to fat instead of energy
- Insomnia and stress increase cortisol, making it harder to sleep
- When stressed or rushed, food choices are worse, which can disrupt sleep
- Lack of sleep
The more physical and mental tiredness a person experiences, the more likely they will have food cravings. Research by the university of Chicago showed those deprived of sleep chose a high carbohydrate snack twice as often, as those who slept 8 hours per night.
A second study found that sleeping too little prompts people to eat larger portions of all foods, increasing weight gain. And in a review of 18 studies, researchers found across the board, that a lack of sleep led to increased cravings for energy-dense, high carbohydrate foods.
Sleep is like nutrition for the mind. When it’s missing we seek quick stimulation through coffee, carbs and processed sugar.
It’s not easy working long hours, feeling stressed, pleasing others and trying to find the energy to look after oneself. Motivation can disappear for months on end. How do we get that back? What can be done when the mind says, “Stuff it, I’ll just eat whatever I want?”
Exhaustion followed by quick stimulant foods and drinks, reinforces the cycle of tiredness and weight gain. Stimulants provide energy but we’re still on edge. A gentleman at the clinic recently revealed having 8 cups of coffee in the morning and 4-6 glasses of wine in the evening. The coffee gets him going and alcohol slows him down.
When exhausted the frontal lobe of the brain is dulled. We are less likely to make good decisions. We are more likely to choose quick options, rather than prepared breakfast, lunch and dinner, on a regular basis. Decisions stop being based on hunger instead looking for comfort and reward. At this time food is all about getting a dopamine hit.
One way to tell if food has become addictive is getting cravings, obsessing over choices and regretting those choices regularly.
All this because of sleep loss? Not always. People who sleep well also crave food however it is worse when overtired. When relaxed you are more in touch with the hunger sensation. You are far more likely to pass up processed food when you have clarity of mind.
Food cravings and hunger are entirely different. Hunger is a void in the stomach area. A craving is pleasure seeking for the mind. It’s worth knowing the difference and satisfying with healthy options. Overtiredness, like being drunk can cause similar bad decision-making to occur.
Food cravings and hunger are entirely different.
Improving Your Situation
How much sleep do I need?
- 6 hours is a good minimum to work towards
- Less than 6 hours, over several weeks can be problematic
- 7-9 hours is ideal for most adults
Effective ways to stimulate your metabolism are water, walking and food in the morning. The metabolism has been sleeping for several hours. It needs to be woken up. Think in terms of encouraging your metabolism to get moving. A warm breakfast is better than a cold one. Drinking 1 glass of water is better than none. All exercise creates warmth and movement in your body.
These actions signal the metabolism to ‘wake up’ and ‘get moving.’
When it comes to the body, like creates like. Movement creates movement. Lightness creates lightness. Consistency encourages the body to maintain a consistent weight and so on. It’s a decent rule to follow. Live the way you want to feel.
Exercise can protect against impact on the metabolism, caused by lack of sleep. Body movement can improve the body’s insulin response leading to improved glucose metabolization. In other words – weight loss.
A lady at my clinic had a nice idea when a food craving hit. She exercised or cleaned. Either way she moved her body which increased metabolism and avoided the extra carbs.
When stressed and tired your brain’s reward centre fires up. It is seeking instant gratification and food is very available to provide this. The thought might cross one’s mind to prepare a meal but the reward centre says, “don’t worry about it.” Over time you can retrain yourself to know the difference between hunger and emotion-based eating.
Practice mindfulness with eating habits particularly if tired and stressed.
Jeremy Walker’s background is in Hypnotherapy. He created the WARP (Walker Addiction Removal Process) and is located in Brisbane QLD. Confidential appointments are available for weight loss, anxiety treatment and sleep related issues. Jeremy enjoys nothing more than seeing others make a positive shift!