“A Sleep Deprived Body Will Cry Famine in the Midst of Plenty”

Weight loss goals are the focus for many in the New Year, particularly after the indulgences of the festive season. Sadly, early gains are often short-lived; the battle with food an ongoing struggle, more challenging and demoralising as the years go by. This year, a commitment to adequate sleep could help to transform your plans for a healthier 2020.

For many in Western societies, short sleep duration (six hours or less per night) is a lifestyle habit, even a perceived necessity in order to fulfil multiple roles and responsibilities, to achieve goals and aspirations. Unfortunately, the health consequences of inadequate sleep are often underestimated and easily dismissed despite the wealth of research evidence. When it comes to a healthy relationship with eating and food- a number one ally is sleep.

The relationship between eating and sleep has been extensively studied and we know that short sleepers have a decreased production of the hormone leptin (responsible for appetite blunting and feelings of satiation), and an increased production of the hormone ghrelin (responsible for sensation of hunger and the desire to eat).

In addition to causing hormonal imbalances, the sleep deprived brain is dysregulated in areas responsible for impulse control[2], making it more difficult to resist urges for unhealthy food choices. Instead, the more primitive parts of the brain are activated, seeking reward and fulfilment of our immediate desires.[3] A strong will and firm commitment are required to hold in mind values for healthy living when the body is primed for a feast.

This additional daily calorific intake is an important issue for short sleepers. In an average working year, it has been estimated that a habitual short sleeper may consume 70,000 extra calories (when compared to 7h + sleepers) translating into 10-15 pounds weight. Short sleepers are much more likely to crave complex carbohydrates and sweet snacks to satisfy a very real sense of hunger.[4] Sadly, even with good intentions, short sleepers can find it much harder to lose excess weight and achieve a sculpted body; when sleep deprived, our bodies prioritise weight loss through lean body mass rather than from fat. ยน

Ensuring we receive adequate sleep is even related to the health of the gut and bacterial microbiome (the concentration of micro-organisms in the intestines). The diversity of these microbes has widespread effects on mental and physical health, affecting our mood, metabolic, cardiovascular, circulatory and immune systems. Sleep provides balance to the nervous system and without sufficient hours, excess cortisol in the body encourages the growth of bad bacteria throughout the microbiome. [5]

With this New Year you may be tempted to sacrifice another hour of precious sleep to squeeze in that vital gym session. It may be worth considering how an extra hour under the covers could help to disempower the very cravings which lead you to the treadmill in the first place.

[1] Van Cauter, cited in Walker, M. (2017).Why We Sleep. New York: Scribner.

[2] Yoo (2007).The human brain without sleep- a prefrontal amgydala disconnect. Current Biology, 17, 877-8.

[3] St- Onge, M.P., McReynolds, A., Trivedi, Z.B., Roberts, A.L., & Hirsch, J. (2012). Sleep restriction leads to increased activation of brain regions sensitive to food stimuli. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 95, 818-824.

[4] Spiegel, K., Tasali, E., Peney, P., & Van Cauter, E. (2004). Annals of Internal Medicine, 141, 846-50

[5] Breus, M. (2018). The latest on sleep and gut health. Thesleepdoctor.com