When clients come to see me, sleep is the first thing we address. Why? Because I believe sleep is the most important factor in weight loss and your overall health. And, fortunately, most of us have some control over the quantity and quality of sleep we get.
Overall, studies have shown that people who sleep less tend to eat more, especially sugary, high carb snacks. Why is this? Because sleep affects your hormones and neurotransmitters, your gut microbiome, as well as your decision making and impulse control. Let’s focus on the hormone and neurotransmitter piece.
Insufficient sleep in humans tends to decrease leptin, increase ghrelin, increase cortisol, reduce insulin sensitivity, decrease growth hormone and increase endocannabinoids. What does that mean?
Leptin is a hormone produced in fat cells. Leptin is called the “fullness hormone”. With decreased levels you have increased hunger.
Ghrelin is a hormone produced in the stomach, pancreas, small intestines and brain. Ghrelin is the “hunger hormone”. Increased levels of ghrelin increase your hunger.
Cortisol is a hormone produced in the adrenals. Cortisol is known as the “stress hormone” and chronically high levels can lead to inflammation and fat storage.
Insulin is a hormone produced in the pancreas. Insulin is responsible for transporting glucose into our cells. Insulin resistance leads to increased fat storage.
- Human growth hormone
Growth hormone is produced by the pituitary gland in your brain. Most of it is secreted during sleep. Growth hormone stimulates growth of all the tissues of the body, including muscle and bone. Decreased growth hormone leads to decreased muscle mass and metabolism.
Endocannabinoids are usually categorized as neurotransmitters. Endocannabinoids promote the munchies, especially mid-day to evening.
So, if you are not getting enough sleep, can you see how hard it can be to fight the cravings and altered metabolism that your body is setting you up for? Not only can lack of sleep lead to obesity, it is also linked to diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, and cognitive decline.
What to do? Most of us need between 8-9 hours of sleep per night. Make sleep a priority. If you have a night of disruptive sleep, make sure you get back on track with your sleep the next night. If you suspect you have a sleep disorder, seek medical attention. For tips on sleep hygiene, see my post “How to Improve Your Sleep”.