There is an undeniable link between lack of sleep and weight gain. Research suggests that sleep deprivation could lead to poor eating habits and, as a result, gradual weight gain.

Take a moment to think about it; you sleep badly, so you’re tired and crave carbs for a quick energy boost. During the day you might have several cups of coffee to stay awake, then skip the gym because you’re exhausted, and pick up (or even easier – order in!) takeout on the way home because you’re too lazy to cook. When you finally get to bed, you’re too wound up to sleep, so you have another restless night.

Unfortunately it’s a vicious and never-ending cycle that could disrupt your natural weight management process. You might not think there is an issue, but the impact of a bad night’s sleep will present itself in a number of ways, especially in your eating habits and weight fluctuation.

REM is more than a 90’s band.

Studies on the correlation between sleep and eating behaviour have been done on both animals and humans, focusing on both sleep deprivation and REM sleep deprivation. The results in animals showed a spike in cravings for high-carbohydrate and high-calorie foods. A similar result emerged in the tests performed on humans – increased appetite and the same high-carb cravings.

Uncomfortable sleep = Comfort food 

Rather than choosing healthy options, comfort foods are often a go-to when we’re tired. This is a result of the hormone imbalance initiated by sleep deprivation. Research shows an increase in ghrelin and a decrease in leptins – the hormones that increase and suppress our appetites, respectively – when are sleep deprived. Additionally, when you are sleep deprived, your metabolism doesn’t function properly (There’s a whole scientific explanation behind this one, so read up on it here, if you’re interested). It seems quite logical then that the less you sleep, the more you want to eat. Combined with a slower metabolism, eating more can only lead to one thing! Unfortunately, slowly gaining weight is a common outcome of a lack of good sleep and poor nutritional choices.

Sad truth - Age and sleep don’t mix.

As we age, we tend to have a harder time falling asleep and staying asleep. This is partly due to natural hormonal changes as well as physical changes taking place in our bodies. We need approximately 7 hours of quality sleep for our bodies to reach their optimal functioning state. If you’re getting any more than that, you’re just lucky! For many of us, a truly great night’s sleep is rare. This means we need to be extra conscious of our food choices if we’re watching our waistlines.

To reiterate… it’s not to say you’ll automatically gain weight if you’re battling to sleep. If you’re not getting enough sleep or good quality sleep, your metabolism won’t function properly. Weight gain will depend on your eating habits when you’re awake.

And now for a good bedtime story.

The most obvious solution to this quandary is to get as much quality sleep as you can, which is easier said than done! For people who struggle to sleep well, or those who’s sleep quality is lacking due to pain or an underlying sleep disorder, you may need to change up your bedtime habits:

Begin by making conscious food choices close to bedtime; try to follow some of these basic steps.

  • Avoid drinking caffeine after 2 p.m. – caffeine will keep you from a deep sleep later on in the evening. Opt for a cup of herbal tea, or if that’s not your thing, give warm water with lemon and ginger a try.
  • Watch what you eat before bed. Consuming large meals, or carb-heavy foods will definitely impact the quality of your sleep. They can also increase the risk of heartburn – a sure-fire way to keep you up. Consider a lighter meal at dinner time instead, eating foods that are easy to digest – plan a plate full of veg and protein.
  • Exercise can often help improve sleep quality. You will have to experiment to see if exercise close to bedtime impairs or deepens your sleep, and what type of exercise does the trick – be it cardio or gentle exercise.  

If, like so many, you are unable to sleep no matter what you do, it becomes a matter of controlling the factors you have influence over and staying on top of the things that have the potential long-term impact of a lack of sleep. Page through our various articles on getting the best night’s sleep for more information. The important thing to recognise is that your individual relationship between sleep and weight gain can be altered and controlled by making a conscious effort to avoid bad habits.