Learn how skimping on shut-eye can make it harder to be healthy and lose weight.

Do you find it’s especially difficult resisting chocolate chip cookies after a few sleepless nights? It’s not all in your head. In fact, a lack of sleep may be more serious than you think. Learn how skimping on shut-eye can make it harder to be healthy and lose weight.

How Hormones are Affected by Sleep

Leptin: Leptin is a hormone that signals your brain when you’ve had enough to eat. When you don’t get substantial sleep, the level of leptin in your body decreases. Low levels of leptin may decrease how full you feel after meals.

Ghrelin: Ghrelin is a hormone that is involved in stimulating appetite. A lack of adequate sleep makes ghrelin levels rise, which increases your appetite and may cause your calorie intake to increase throughout the day. Higher levels of ghrelin may also cause your body to store fat more easily.

Did you know?

Compared to 100 years ago, we get less sleep per night. We now average less than seven hours per night. Unfortunately, sleeping less than eight hours has been shown to lower levels of leptin, increase levels of ghrelin and increase body fat.

Side Effects of Not Getting Enough Sleep

How much is enough? Most adults need 7-9 hours of shut-eye per night. Teens and children need even more.

Consistently getting fewer than 6 hours of sleep per night may put you at risk for the following health-related complications:

  • Increased risk of developing diabetes, heart disease and obesity
  • Decreased muscle mass (being up for a long period of time may trigger the use of muscle as fuel for the additional hours your body is awake)
  • Increased ability to store fat
  • Reduced sensitivity to insulin (important for clearing sugar from your blood)
  • Increased cravings (up to 45% in one study) for high carbohydrate and high calorie foods (think: pastries, fried food, pizza, and chocolate)

Tips to Improve the Quality of Your Sleep

Avoid eating for at least two hours before bed. This will help you feel more comfortable in bed and will reduce symptoms of heartburn.

Get up and go to bed around the same time each day.

Limit or avoid doing activities other than sleeping in bed, e.g. surfing the web, eating, etc.

Don’t exercise right before bed. This revs up your body and can make it harder to fall asleep. In contrast, regular exercise done earlier in the day can improve your sleep quality.

Avoid caffeine or consume it earlier in the day. It takes six to 10 hours to eliminate caffeine from the body and some drugs, such as antibiotics like Cipro and Noroxin, interfere with your body’s ability to break down caffeine. Echinacea can also increase the side effects of caffeine.

Caffeine is found in more than just coffee and tea. Taking two pills of Excedrin, Midol or Tylenol Ultra Relief Migraine Pain is equal to drinking a small (12 oz) cup of coffee. Eating one cup coffee ice cream or five miniature chocolate bars (1.5 oz) is like having a cup of tea in relation to caffeine content.

Limit alcohol consumption. Alcohol can disrupt your sleep during the night, ultimately reducing your sleep quality.

Emily Gelsomin, MLA, RD, LDN
Emily Gelsomin, MLA, RD, LDN

Emily Gelsomin, MLA, RD, LDN, is a senior clinical nutrition specialist at Massachusetts General Hospital. As a registered dietitian, she counsels on medical nutrition therapy on an outpatient basis and works extensively with Be Fit, the hospital’s employee wellness program.

Jointly sponsored by The Clubs at Charles River Park and MGH Nutrition and Food Services, the 10-week program focuses on helping participants “Be Fit and Eat Right.” Every ten weeks, employees from different departments within the hospital compete with each other as they make a commitment to Be Fit. Through the creation of a social environment at the workplace, participants are supported to make progress in personal lifestyle changes with the help of a unique support system that includes a dedicated nutritionist and personal trainer.

Be Fit strives to create a milieu of wellness that extends beyond the 10-week curriculum by offering features to those who are not part of the intensive program. This includes the creation of Choose Well, Eat Well, a rating system designed to help both employees and patients increase awareness of healthy choices at retail eateries within the hospital. It also includes a monthly e-mail with a timely nutrition tip.