Sleep habits and your weight

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Going into the holiday season, we often start worrying about weight gain from all the delicious meals, desserts, and celebrations. One thing we often overlook is to try to get more sleep. Too little sleep appears to impact your hunger, dietary choices, and, ultimately, your weight.

It is easy to see how too much sleep could lead to weight gain since you’re not burning as many calories when asleep. It’s a little less obvious how sleeping too little can cause weight gain. If you are tired during the day or still feeling tired when you wake up and see the scales go up, you may be seeing the effects of not getting enough sleep. Seven to nine hours of sleep a night is ideal. Sleeping less is a risk factor for weight gain for biological and behavioral reasons.

When we are up late at night, we may make food choices that aren’t as good as they should be: the big bowl of ice cream eaten at 10 p.m. or the nachos and cheese while watching a late game or show. Staying up late gives us more hours to consume calories, and it’s easy to fall into the trap of eating to get the energy to stay awake. Also, a lack of restful sleep may make you hungrier during the day, as the hormone leptin is lower when you sleep less. This hormone signals when you are full, so you have the urge to eat more all day when it is low.

Lack of sleep is also associated with insulin resistance and the risk of Type-2 diabetes. Increased insulin resistance can lead to increased hunger and weight gain.

Overnight shift work is known to increase the risk for obesity as well. Disrupting the natural sleep cycle induces physical and mental stress, resulting in a lower quality of diet. Also, food choices may be limited, and healthy foods may be less available in the middle of the night or when you come home tired and reach for the quickest food. While the shift you work may not be something you can or want to change, it helps if you are even more aware of your food choices and exercise when you are on a night schedule.

A good night’s sleep is essential for your body to rejuvenate and protect against unwanted weight gain. If you sleep poorly due to medical issues or pain, seek help from your medical professional. If stress and worry keep you up, seek ways such as exercise, meditation, giving yourself time to wind down in the early evening, avoiding alcohol in the evening, engaging in daytime exercise, or talking to a healthcare professional to reduce your anxiety.  If you have just fallen into the habit of staying up to watch TV or pursue a hobby, screens, or a game, think about your choices.

Enjoy your holiday celebrations, and don’t worry about a few late nights. But as a New Year’s resolution, keep track of your sleep schedule. Your health and waistline will thank you.