We all know how a bad night’s sleep can make us feel cranky and lethargic. But what’s the connection between poor sleep and weight gain? Find out why not getting enough zzz’s can make you binge junk and what you need to do to overcome chronic sleep problems…
As a mom of 4 young kids and an ER nurse practitioner, Lord knows that there have been plenty of nights when I didn’t get enough sleep. And when I wake up feeling dead tired and praying that I summon superhero strength to make it through another day, it doesn’t make me feel any better knowing that I’m not alone.
You see, roughly 35% of Americans get less than 7 hours of sleep. But when I wake up on the wrong side of the bed, there is no comfort or safety in numbers. I feel like it’s me against the world.
Beyond feeling like a zombie, however, there’s a couple other big problems associated with chronic sleep deprivation. You’re probably aware that not getting enough sleep can weaken your immune system.
But did you know poor sleep leads to weight gain?
It’s true. There have been dozens of studies that show a link between sleep and obesity.
How Poor Sleep Leads To Weight Gain
Researchers from the University of Chicago explained in this study that sleep is an important modulator of endocrine function (hormones) and glucose metabolism.
In other words, tossing and turning throughout the night decreases your body’s ability to break down sugar. In addition, poor sleep leads to lower insulin sensitivity. That means that your pancreas will have to produce more of the blood-sugar-controlling hormone, insulin.
In addition, you’ll have more of the stress hormone, cortisol, circulating through your bloodstream at night. Increased evening concentrations of cortisol leads to weight gain because the elevated stress hormones interfere with digestion and fat metabolism.
Another way that insufficient sleep can make you pack on the pounds is by increasing levels of ghrelin and decreasing levels of leptin. Ghrelin is the hormone that tells your brain, “Feed me!” while leptin tells your brain to stick a fork in it, you’re done eating.
So poor sleep is a double whammy for your hunger hormones. The signal for your satiety hormone is reduced while the signal to the brain to eat more is increased. In fact, research has shown that sleeping less than 6 hours a night increases hunger levels by 25%.
Foods To Eat For Better Sleep
Now it would be one thing if waking up in the middle of the night led to cravings for steamed spinach. But your brain doesn’t want that when you have insomnia. When you traipse to the kitchen at three in the morning, you’re probably not going to eat a handful of blueberries or a sweet potato. Nope, your brain is screaming for comfort food.
In fact, a research study of medical students demonstrated that poor sleep quality is associated with a greater intake of unhealthy dietary fat.
Is there anything you can eat that research shows encourages a more restful night’s sleep?
Well, no surprise here, but eating healthy foods are associated with higher sleep quality. So if you’re not getting good sleep, eat this:
- Complex carbohydrates – In my practice as a functional medicine practitioner and health coach, I don’t make people eliminate carbs and go crazy Keto. But I do teach my clients what carbs to cut out and which ones to replace them with. Complex carbs break down very slowly and don’t lead to blood sugar spikes. And they’re a great source of magnesium, which is a mineral that helps your body relax. Most Americans are magnesium deficient. The best magnesium-rich grains are wild rice, amaranth and other ancient heirloom varieties of wheat. (I’ll teach you which are the best ones for your specific DNA when we work together.)
- Wild salmon – This superfood is rich in vitamin B6, another nutrient that’s been linked to better sleep quality.
- Brazil nuts – Selenium is a micronutrient (trace mineral). Just one Brazil nut contains 100% of the daily recommended value of selenium, which has been shown in research to improve sleep quality.
- Green leafy veggies – When you think of calcium, what comes to mind? Probably dairy foods, right? Well, eating too much dairy promotes excess inflammation in the body. But leafy greens are a great source of bone-building and sleep-inducing calcium. They also contain tryptophan. That’s the amino acid in turkey that makes you want to pass out on the couch after Thanksgiving meal. (Actually, the post-Thanksgiving meal food coma is the result of the combo of the turkey and starchy carbs from stuffing and mashed potatoes.)
- Berries and red peppers – High in antioxidants, these foods are also rich in Vitamin C. Research shows that diets low in vitamin C are associated with less restorative sleep.
Lifestyle Tips For Better Sleep
In addition to eating the right kind of foods and eliminating sugary, high-processed foods, there are other things you can do to get a better night’s sleep.
For starters, don’t eat late at night.
Try to finish your last bite of food and caloric drinks by 7 or 8 at night. If you wake up in the middle of the night, do your best to avoid temptation—even a warm glass of milk can lead to metabolic dysfunction and weight gain. (When you Revitalize Your Health, you’ll sleep like a baby!)
Be active during the day. The more active you are during the day, the more restful your sleep will be.
Also try to keep your bedroom dark and cool. And don’t use your computer or smartphone within 30 minutes of bedtime. Finally, try to get in bed at the same time every night, ideally no later than 10:30 pm unless you happen to be an ER nurse like me.
Transform Your Health. Transform Your Life.
If you’re struggling with poor sleep and weight gain, let me guide you in pursuit of living your best life.
Until next time,
Jenna Witt, NP