If you want to slim down, go to sleep. Really. That’s according to several studies that show how getting forty winks affects our hormones. When you’re sleep deprived, levels of ghrelin, a hormone that boosts your appetite, go up. And levels of leptin, a hormone that tells your body it’s full, go down. These two actions drive you to overeat. And you know what happens when you overeat.
Lack of sleep also leaves you tired throughout the day. To boost your energy level you may turn to calorie-dense, high-sugar foods and caffeine (e.g. donuts and coffee), which give you a shot of energy—followed by another energy slump. These energy highs and lows keep you snacking throughout the day to stay awake—a habit that can pack on the pounds over time. And the more hours you’re awake, the more likely you are to snack.
So how much sleep do you need? Although you always hear that you should get 8 hours of sleep a night, this is just an average. Sleep experts recommend a range of 7-9 hours a night. The quality of sleep also matters. Research has shown that people who have sleep apnea have higher levels of leptin and weigh more. The disrupted breathing prevents the deep sleep needed to keep leptin levels from rising.
So if you’re hungry and tired all day and can’t seem to drop those extra pounds, try getting more zzz’s and/or seeing your doctor to identify possible sleep problems. And encourage your kids to sleep more too. Healthy sleep habits develop in childhood.
Through her Des Moines-based nutrition company, SK Health Communications, registered dietitian Stephanie Karpinske writes and develops recipes for magazines, books, supermarkets and food companies. She is the author of Read Before Dieting: Your 4-Step Plan for Diet Success and writes a blog about healthy eating, foodnuti.com. She’s coaching the Lehman family through the six-month Healthy Family Challenge.