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By now, we’re all likely aware that it’s important to get enough sleep. But sleep deprivation continues to be an epidemic in the US. The CDC estimates that 50-70 million Americans don’t get enough sleep–and experience daytime disturbances because of it.

A good portion of those millions of people are dealing with sleep disorders, such as sleep apnea, insomnia, or chronic pain. For many of those folks, medical help is often necessary–this article isn’t written specifically for this population of people.

Instead, this article is for the large portion of sleep deprived Americans that CHOOSE to not get adequate sleep. Before this comes across as preachy or high-and-mighty, know that both of us have and will continue to have nights where we don’t get enough sleep by choice.

Quite honest, there are sometimes just more important things to do in life!

But even with the occasional sleepless night, it’s still crucial to make the conscious decision, over and over, to get the rest your body is asking for. (Why do animals sleep?? No one actually understands it…which is fascinating in its own right!)

We’ve noticed that having a good grasp of what is going on inside your body in response to any lifestyle choice you make can be an incredible motivator for people to get back on track. When you throw the topic of weight into the mix, we’ve noticed people’s ears really perk up!

So anyways, here’s the point of the article: it’s to help you understand your body better and therefore be more in control of it…and your life as a whole as a result!

This allows us to listen to our bodies and take care of them as the amazing and beautiful self-healing machines that they are.

Like this post? Pin it to Pinterest to share it with your family and friends! Especially those that need more sleep!

So here goes.

When you skimp on sleep (we’re talking less than 6 hours for the average person, but it’d likely be more accurate to say that many people feel better on a consistent 8 hours), an entire cascade of hormonal events get kicked off.

Side note: it’s important to understand that this cascade kicks off even after 1 night of skimping on sleep. But that just like any lifestyle choice we make, the damage is additive with more and more sleep deprivation.

We could start talking about this cascade at any point at its onset, but let’s start by addressing what happens to our hunger hormones. With sleep deprivation, the hormones that signal us to start and keep eating–orexin and ghrelin–increase, while the hormone that tells your body that you’ve gotten enough food–leptin–decreases. This leads to the physical sensation of an increased appetite and ultimately, more food intake. This is especially true since being up and about means that you have increased access to food. And we don’t know about you…but when we have the option of food, we eat!

Secondly, decreased sleep changes the hormones and signaling molecules that control the maintenance of your body temperature regulation and the sensation of fatigue. This means that you’re that much more likely to want to skip that nice evening walk you were planning taking or sitting on the bench while your kids play at the park. It’s basically your body reminding you that you should be conserving energy…which is great for short term acute circumstance but incredibly damaging when it’s abused!

Perhaps most concerning (although this is all pretty concerning!) is how much the lack of sleep impacts our sugar regulating, endocrine, and adrenal hormones.  Evening cortisol tends to rise in the evening; this is why so many of us tend to get that “second-wind” around 8 pm. As you imagine, this can quickly snowball into an entire cascade of sex hormone and adrenal hormone alterations that lead to worsening of fatigue and further sleep alterations…which all ends in a big negative downward spiral.

In addition to a rise in cortisol, there is an increase in nighttime growth hormone–which does kind of what you’d think it would do to your waistline. Both of these hormonal shifts go on to increase you sympathetic, or “fight-and-flight”, response chronically which has also been correlated to increased abdominal fat.

Together, all of these hormonal changes exert negative effects on insulin and blood sugar regulation.  Most commonly people will begin to develop a decreased glucose tolerance, and eventually, insulin resistance (although the onset can come first or the two happen at the same time).

When you add all of these negative consequences of sleep deprivation together, it’s easy to see why not getting enough sleep can cause weight gain or weight loss resistance.  

While you ARE beautiful at any weight (tell yourself that at least once a day because it’s true!!), increased abdominal (aka: visceral) fat is linked to a host of health issues that impact how freely you can life your life.  And the freedom to live your life and make the impact you want to make is our number our health goal at baseline!

If you’ve been skimping on sleep because you didn’t feel that it was a priority, it’s time to rethink that habit! To learn more about healthful sleep habits, you might want to listen to Episode 6 of the Wellness Beet (this is an old podcast that Alex used to do).

And to get a lot more information on the science of sleep and actionable tips on how to optimize your best sleep quality and quantity, make sure you join our ZestyU Membership program where we’ll be talking a lot about sleep in the next few months!