TOVI's Science Communicator, Ashley Miller-Dykeman, M.A.
Can Sleep Affect How Much You Weigh?
Regulation of body weight is difficult. Experts have known for a long time that food and exercise contribute to your weight. More and more, they are beginning to understand some of the other factors at play. In fact, there is growing evidence that sleep is also involved in regulating your weight.
Most of us have experienced disrupted sleep at some point, whether it was due to young children, stress, noise, or some other reason. It’s also likely that, whether you were aware of it or not, you also experienced a change in your eating behaviors as a result. A recent study has estimated that getting less than 7 hours of sleep on average, increases caloric intake by about 380 calories per day!
Researchers noted a shift towards more calorie-dense, fatty foods following sleep deprivation. Experts don’t know for certain why this happens. Some speculate it is related to changes in appetite-regulating hormones. Specifically, two hormones in the body called ghrelin and leptin that could get thrown out of whack when you’re sleep-deprived. The result is that you want to eat more.
Another theory is that increased food intake is simply because the longer you’re awake, the more time you have to be tempted by yummy (but probably somewhat unhealthy) foods.
Regardless of why people tend to overeat when they’re sleep-deprived, knowledge is power! Being aware of this tendency means you can do things to try to prevent it. Here are a few suggestions on how you can avoid sleep-rated weight gain:
1. Improve your sleep quality.
Quality of sleep matters just as much as how long you sleep. Focus on getting good sleep by keeping your bedroom dark, quiet, and a comfortable temperature. Avoiding screens (including your phone and TVs) within 30 minutes to an hour of bedtime and doing a relaxing activity before bed can also help you improve your sleep.
2. Be mindful of the evening munchies.
Eating a big meal (or lots of snacks) isn’t just problematic for your waistline, but it’s also a problem for your sleep! Having a full stomach can cause your digestion to keep you up during the night, or lead to problems like heartburn or indigestion. Instead, try to stay mindful during these times and practice portion control.
3. Try a brisk walk when you're feeling tired.
Afternoon slumps are a real thing, but the solution doesn’t have to be snacks! A walk outside or around the office can give you an energy boost, without adding more calories to your daily total.
4. Stay hydrated.
It’s actually pretty common for people to mistake thirst for hunger. Counteract this problem by staying hydrated throughout the day. Carry a water bottle with you or set an amount of water you’re trying to drink every hour. The end goal is to drink enough water that you don’t feel thirsty during the day.
By working these tips into your lifestyle, you can get better sleep and help prevent sleep-related weight gain! If you'd like support with improving sleep, download the TOVI app – it's free!
Reviewed by: Lorena Ruci, Ph.D., Registered Psychotherapist