sleep deprivation and weight gain: How does it happen?By Tom Venuto, CSCS, NSCA-CPT
You've probably seen the magazine articles or news blurbs that say, "lack of sleep can make you fat!"
There is a lot of confusion however, about the mechanism.
It's not uncommon for people to believe there is a cause and effect relationship between sleep deprivation and weight gain.
However, if that were the case, then you would always gain weight if you slept less even if your food intake stayed the same.
To the contrary, if you sleep less AND eat less, rest assured you will lose weight.
If you are awake more hours and you are more active during those increased waking hours, again, rest assured you will lose weight.
Almost all the research on this subject has been cross sectional and therefore does not prove causality.
We Eat More When We're Sleep Deprived
Research suggests that the likely explanation is a disruption in hormones which can affect appetite and food intake so you are more likely to eat more when you are sleep deprived.
For example, a new study published in the December 2007 issue of "Nutrition Research Reviews" says that sleep deprivation can reduce leptin (the anti starvation hormone, also known as an anorexigenic hormone) and increase ghrelin, a stomach hormone that increases hunger.
This makes total sense. Think about it:
- less sleep equals more awake time
- More awake time equals greater energy needs
- Greater energy needs can be satisfied by increasing hunger hormones
- Leptin and ghrelin are appetite-stimulating hormones
The human body is incredible and amazingly self-regulating, isnt it?
In addition, when hormones are out of balance, that can affect nutrient paritioning.
Nutrient paritioning refers to where the energy comes from when you have a calorie deficit - fat or lean tissue - and where the energy goes when you are in a calorie surplus - fat or lean tissue.
So, when partitioning hormones are messed up due to sleep deprivation, it's entirely possibly that you are more likely to add fat (not muscle) when in a surplus and lose muscle (not fat) when in a deficit.
This is similar to what happens during stress. Stress also does not "cause" fat gain, but it certainly correlates to fat gain, for similar reasons. Imagine what happens when you are stressed AND sleep deprived?
Some people seem to get by with less sleep than others. I know many people, myself included, who excel physically on 6-7 hours a night, so there is certainly a variation in sleep needs from person to person.
Developing Good Sleeping Habits
Developing sleep habits that promote deep, high quality sleep may also reduce sleep needs an hour or two. This includes:
- going to bed and waking up at the same time every night
- getting to sleep early and awake early to maximize night time sleeping hours and daylight waking hours
- sleeping in a dark room
- avoiding alcohol and stimulants prior to bedtime
- reducing stress and exercising regularly
However, in light of past research and the new data that was just published, if in doubt, it's surely better to err on the side of a little more sleep than a little less sleep, if more muscle and less fat is your goal.
About the Author:
Tom Venuto is a lifetime natural bodybuilder, an NSCA-certified personal trainer (CPT), certified strength & conditioning specialist (CSCS), and author of the #1 best-selling e-book, "Burn the Fat, Feed The Muscle.” Tom has written more than 200 articles and has been featured in print magazines such as IRONMAN, Australian IRONMAN, Natural Bodybuilding, Muscular Development, Exercise for Men and Men’s Exercise, as well as on hundreds of websites worldwide. For information on Tom's Fat Loss program, visit: www.burnthefatbook.com