·  Legal News, Analysis, & Commentary

Health & Medicine

6 Surprising Ways Less Sleep Leads to Weight Gain

— September 17, 2019

Burning the midnight oil can lead to burning less fat, resulting in junk food cravings and weight gain.

If you are looking for a reason to squeeze in more time into your sleep schedule, you might want to pay attention to this article. Recent research was done by a Sweden-based university proves that you are more likely to pack a few more pounds when you sleep less. Unfortunately, that means staying up late to catch up with your favorite Netflix series or playing a video game through the night could have an adverse effect on your dream body and consequently, more hours in the gym.

Still doubting?

Why Less Sleep Equals More Weight:

It shoots up your appetite

If you ever stayed up late keeping checks on a baby or completing an office project, you would notice an urge in you to eat more food. And not just any food – calorie-dense food. However, it doesn’t just happen; there is a scientific explanation for it.

Everything that happens in our body pretty much depends on the hormone concentration at the target organs – your stomach not being left out. So here is what happens when you keep late nights:

Woman in grey shirt sleeping in bed with white sheets; image by Vladislav Muslakov, via
Woman in grey shirt sleeping in bed with white sheets; image by Vladislav Muslakov, via

In our bodies, there are roughly two hormones concerned with the whole weight gain process: leptin and ghrelin. Ghrelin and leptin regulate the body’s energy balance, making us feel either hungry or full. But, they are directly opposite of each other. Ghrelin, which is the hunger hormone, is secreted by the digestive system when there is little or no food in it. Leptin, which is the fullness hormone, is secreted by fat cells of the body when the energy reserve present is sufficient or abundant. In order words, ghrelin sends a signal to the brain that you are hungry while leptin sends a signal to the brain that you are full.

When you sleep less, something happens. The blood level of the leptin hormone drops significantly while that of the ghrelin hormone shoots up. Consequently, more ghrelin hormone means more hunger, more hunger means you eat more food, more food would result in a weight gain.

Less energy for exercise.

This is basically common sense. When you go to sleep late, probably around 1.a.m and you are up by 5 am (practically 4 hours of sleep), you would definitely have a groggy feeling. Obviously, when you are tired, doing some push-ups or jumping jacks would be the last thing on your mind. It would even be worse if you suffer from chronic insomnia; sleeping becomes a problem.

However, there is good news. Good sleep can enhance your athletic ability! But, good sleep isn’t just about long hours; it means quality. Things like, how good your mattress is or how effective your exercise-life is, always affect how good your sleep ends up being. For instance, big-boned sleepers require a medium-firm bed with curvy support. Sleeping on an under-firm bed would be no good for their shut-eye time. 

Changes in your diet

The excuse any student would give for staying up late would be catching up due to an upcoming exam. Frankly, that’s not a bad idea. However, it becomes a bad idea when you do it the wrong way – use of caffeine. In fact, it’s a vicious cycle: you wake up tired in the morning, take a cup of caffeine, stay awake the entire day and partly into the night, sleep late, wake up tired the next morning… it goes on and on until you adjust your internal sleep and diet clock.

Unfortunately, this practice doesn’t just have a long-term effect, its short-term effects are also inescapable. During your hours of consciousness through the night, you develop an affection for sugary food – mostly junk. So, you end up replacing a healthy carrot snack with a can of coke; leading to weight gain

Decrease the rate of your resting metabolism

Let’s not be all scientific here. In simple terms, your resting metabolism is the amount of calories your body burns when you are asleep. Although it is affected by age, health status, height, muscle mass, and a lot of other factors, it is pretty obvious lack of sleep as well, has a significant impact here.

Research backs it up. In recent research, 15 men were kept in a room for 24 hours without sleep. At the end of the research, their resting metabolism was 5% lower compared to when they had normal sleep.

This means that the amount of burnt fat reduced by 5%.

Insulin Resistance

You all know what insulin is, right? If not, allow me to explain.

In the human body, food is absorbed as glucose in the bloodstream. Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas, which helps you move the glucose in your bloodstream into the individual body cells where they are converted as energy and used in the form of ATP.

When you miss one night of sleep, your cells become insulin resistant. That means your body cells do not readily accept glucose from your bloodstream. This implies that you would have blood with a very high concentration of glucose.

Unfortunately, your body interprets a high concentration of glucose in your bloodstream as a need for more insulin. So, that’s exactly what it does – produces more insulin.

The excess insulin present in your bloodstream stimulates a feeling of hunger and tells your body to store the excess calories as fat, instead of converting it to useful energy. Generally, insulin resistance is a precursor for weight gain.

It is so evident that lack of sleep has so much impact than you can imagine on your endocrine system, disturbing natural pathways and having you add more weight!

Higher levels of stress hormones leading to increased appetite

Doesn’t this sound a lot more familiar? Yeah – it should.

Sleep deprivation places a lot of stress on your body. When your body is stressed, your blood glucose level decreases leading to excessive production of a hormone called cortisol.

Unluckily, cortisol is a hormone not only associated with stress patterns, but also with hunger levels. In other words, it shoots up your appetite. Settling to consuming a healthy meal would be substituted for junk food when you are stressed. So, you add some more pounds.

Join the conversation!