Restful, restorative sleep is the cornerstone of a healthy life. However, nearly two-thirds of Americans aren't getting enough sleep. Next to nutrition and exercise, adequate sleep is paramount for overall health.
Studies show that lack of sleep causes stress, irritability, weight gain, forgetfulness, high blood pressure, loss of libido and even more susceptibility to pain.
But we don't need to tell you all of that. You already know how bad things can be when you don't get enough sleep.
Recently, one of my new patients shared her struggles with weight gain and also happens to suffer with chronic insomnia. She questioned, does lack of sleep really cause weight gain?
The short answer is yes! Due to the profound effect lack of sleep has on our metabolism and hunger hormones, weight gain is one of the unfavorable side effects of long term sleep issues or insomnia.
In this article, I will dig deeper into the connection between weight gain, metabolism, and hormone imbalances that occur as a result of being sleep deprived.
Dr. Angela Walk
Founder of Nashville Organix
How Does Lack of Sleep Cause Weight Gain?
Studies show a clear association between sleep restriction and slowing our metabolism. The research revealed that adults who slept four hours a night, compared to those who slept 10 hours, had a significant increase in hunger and appetite.
They also craved more calorie-dense foods high in carbohydrates. This change in the speed of our metabolism is mainly due to reduced sleep and how it affects the production of our healthy hunger hormones.
Let's look at what hormone imbalances occur with lack of sleep and how that slows our metabolism leading to weight gain.
What Hormones Are Affected With Lack of Sleep?
Sleep duration affects the hormones that regulate hunger, balance blood sugar, and help manage stress. These hormones are ghrelin and leptin, insulin, and cortisol.
Leptin and Ghrelin: Leptin and ghrelin are our fullness and hunger hormones. Leptin promotes a feeling of fullness. If we aren't getting enough sleep, leptin levels decrease and signals our brain to eat more even though you don't actually need food.
Ghrelin tells our brains that we are hungry and that we need to eat. When we are sleep deprived, ghrelin levels increase. As a result, too little sleep leads to eating more and gaining weight.
Insulin: Insulin is the hormone that keeps your blood sugar from getting too high or too low. Studies have shown that within just 4 days of insufficient sleep, your body fails to respond to insulin properly and this creates insulin sensitivity.
Your blood sugar levels get too high and you begin to store fat. Insulin resistance is a precursor to Type 2 Diabetes, obesity, and other chronic diseases.
Cortisol: Cortisol is our stress hormone and is released during stressful events. Once we cope with the situation, cortisol levels should return to normal. The problem is that most of us live such hectic lives and are experiencing unrelenting stress.
This elevates cortisol to harmful levels and the result is a nightmare to our health. Sufficient sleep helps to balance cortisol levels. Those who sleep less are also, generally speaking, more likely to be overweight or obese.
A lot of this is due to the fact that cortisol slows down while you’re sleeping (cortisol signals the storage of fat). So the less you sleep, the more time during the day your body is releasing cortisol, and the more signals your body is getting to store fat.
Studies have shown that excess cortisol leads to abdominal weight gain and salt and sugar craving. If you are heavy around the mid-section, stressed out, and feel wired, yet tired, excess cortisol could be the culprit.
Now that we know how sleep affects weight gain, let's look at other health concerns that are effected by lack of sleep such as chronic inflammation, blood pressure, memory and pain syndromes such as headaches.
Can Lack of Sleep Cause Inflammation?
Inflammation is the body’s natural response to disease and injury. It is an essential part of your body’s healing process. It occurs when inflammatory cells travel to the place of an injury or foreign body like bacteria.
If inflammatory cells stay too long, it may lead to chronic inflammation. Chronic inflammation is a symptom of other health conditions and can lead to the development of heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, stroke, gut issues and chronic pain syndromes.
Sleep deprivation plays a role in the inflammatory process. Just one night of poor sleep can spike inflammation. Scientists still have a lot to learn about the specifics of the relationship between sleep and inflammation, but there’s already a strong body of research showing that lack of sleep raises levels of inflammation in the body.
Getting adequate sleep consistently (7-9 hours a night) is the most effective way to help avoid low-grade, systemic inflammation that’s associated with aging and chronic disease.
Does Sleep Affect Blood Pressure?
Consistent sleep restrictions can potentially lead to high blood pressure (hypertension). It’s not fully understood why this occurs, but it’s thought that sleep helps regulate stress hormones and helps your nervous system to remain healthy.
Over a period of time without restorative sleep, your stress hormone levels increase thereby increasing systolic pressure. More research is needed to understand why poor sleep raises blood pressure and what it could mean long-term for people with chronic sleep issues.
Since blood pressure is one of the best predictors of cardiovascular health, keeping your blood pressure at healthy levels is critical as cardiovascular disease is the No. 1 killer of people in the country.
Does Lack of Sleep Affect Memory?
Not only does sleep give your body time to recover, heal, and recharge, it may also be crucial to your brain's ability to learn and remember.
When we are sleep deprived, our focus, attention, and ability to learn and retain new information is impaired. You may have experienced this before if you have stayed up all night studying for a test.
Most of what you studied was lost and you were unable to recall and retain what you read.
Without adequate sleep, your brain becomes foggy and slow to react.
Sleep does more than help sharpen the mind. Studies show that sleep affects physical reflexes, fine motor skills, and even judgment.
Other research shows that people who sleep adequately, perform better, whether on a test, at work or during sports or exercise.
Can Lack of Sleep Cause Headaches?
Generally, a lack of sleep is known to trigger headaches and migraines in some people. In a large study of migraine sufferers, half said sleep disturbances contributed to their headaches.
And those who slept only six hours a night on average had more frequent and more severe headaches than those who slept longer.
Scientists have found a clear link between a lack of sleep and migraine and tension headaches. It appears that a lack of sleep reduces the body’s pain threshold, making it more prone to headaches.
A 2015 study found that people with insomnia and other sleeping issues appear to be more sensitive to pain than those who don’t experience these issues.
Does Sleep Promote Healing?
When a person sleeps, the body is hard at work recovering from the damage and stresses of the day. Restorative sleep is imperative for those with illnesses, physical injuries, or pain syndromes to heal and recover.
Consistent, quality sleep offers our body the ability to repair and grow tissue, bone, and muscle. It also helps to strengthen our immune system so healing is possible and there are no delays in our recovery process.
How Does Alcohol Affect Sleep?
Alcohol may seem to promote sleep initially, but it ultimately robs you of deep sleep and changes your sleep quality. Alcohol is also known to cause or increase the symptoms of sleep apnea, snoring, and disrupted sleep patterns.
Now that we've looked at the health concerns that can occur as a result of lack of sleep, let's
look at the most effective natural remedies to improve your sleep quality.
Natural Tips for Better Sleep
Perhaps you've tried a pharmaceutical sleep aid with all of their annoying and potentially dangerous side effects. Maybe you've spent thousands of dollars on new mattresses, or the latest "miracle pillow" that promises better sleep.
If these things haven't worked, and you aren't getting that deep, soul-refreshing sleep, you may want to try these natural solutions!
Sleep from 10 pm-2 am:
The deepest and most regenerative sleep occurs between the hours of 10 pm-2 am. This magic time frame is when most of the healing from the stress of the day occurs. Also, our fountain of youth hormone, HGH, is produced during these first few hours!
Sleep 7-9 hours:
To give your body time to repair and heal. There is no way around it and no one is excluded!!
Too much stress can certainly hinder restful sleep. Turning your mind off can be a challenge. To help restore peace, consider writing down what's on your mind and setting it aside for tomorrow. Sleep is your priority.
Get More Exercise:
Studies show that those who exercise regularly get better sleep. Exercise is shown to reduce insomnia, improve symptoms of sleep apnea, and provide more restorative sleep. The more rigorous the exercise, the more powerful the sleep benefits.
Eliminate Light Exposure:
Put away phones, laptops, tablets, and TV several hours before bedtime. It disrupts melatonin levels and keeps your mind too busy! Bright screens interfere with the body's rhythms. Pick up a book!
Create a Restful Space:
Start winding down a good hour or two before you plan on actually being asleep. Make your bedroom quiet, dark, cool, and relaxing. Save it for sleep and sex only!
Avoid all caffeinated products including coffee, tea, and sodas after 2 pm. Try a decaf version or drink water only after lunch.
Best Supplements For Better Sleep
Taking a prescription sleep aid can come with significant risks and side effects if taken long term. On the surface, they can seem like the perfect cure for getting better sleep, but many people don’t realize that they can disrupt healthy sleeping patterns.
The natural supplements I recommend most often for getting quality sleep are magnesium glycinate, melatonin, CBD tincture and Delta 8 products, and essential oils.
Benefits of Magnesium For Sleep
Magnesium is an important mineral that is necessary for overall health. The benefits of magnesium range from fighting inflammation and lowering blood pressure to profoundly improving sleep.
Magnesium activates the parasympathetic nervous system, the system responsible for getting you calm and relaxed. It also regulates the hormone melatonin, which guides sleep-wake cycles in your body.
There are many different forms of magnesium, but without question, magnesium glycinate is the best form of magnesium for sleep. Magnesium glycinate is a combination of magnesium and the non-essential sleep-inducing amino acid, glycine.
As one of the best absorbing forms of magnesium, studies have shown that glycine improves sleep quality and promotes healthy sleep patterns and REM cycles .This is the reason why I recommend this Magnesium as a sleep supplement.
Does CBD Help With Sleep?
One of the most recent studies from 2019 showed that CBD has properties that help improve sleep significantly. The research shows that CBD affects sleep by interacting with receptors in the brain that govern the body’s daily sleep/wake cycles.
In other studies, it has been concluded that CBD has the potential to decrease the release of cortisol, our stress hormone. When cortisol levels are optimum, it naturally improves our sleep.
If you’re searching for a CBD product to help with sleep, you have seemingly endless choices. These products range from CBD oil or tinctures, topicals, and edibles such as delta 8 gummies or chocolates.
All of the above can be effective for sleep management. We offer a full line of Tennessee grown CBD products below.
CBD Hemp Extract - 500 mg - Promotes a more restful sleep, eases anxious feelings, and promotes a sense of calm.
CBD Hemp Extract - 1,000 mg - If you suffer from more challenging health concerns or chronic insomnia, you may need a higher dosage of CBD. That's why we offer 1,000 mg full spectrum CBD.
Delta 8 Blueberry Gummies - Not only is Delta-8 a potent relaxant that can relieve stress, but it can also improve your focus and sleep patterns, ease pain, reduce anxiety, boost appetite, relieve nausea and vomiting, and boost low mood and depression.
No wonder it is one of the hottest topics in the industry right now. Delta-8 is like a middle ground between CBD and Delta-9 THC.
When Should You Take Melatonin For Sleep?
Melatonin is a key sleep hormone that tells your brain when it’s time to relax and head to bed. Studies show that it is associated with the regulation of the sleep/wake cycles, promotes healthy sleep, and helps regulate our circadian rhythm.
Melatonin supplements are an extremely popular sleep aid. Studies show that people fall asleep faster and had 15% improvement in sleep quality. Additionally, no withdrawal effects were reported.
It is also useful when traveling and adjusting to a new time zone as it helps your body’s circadian rhythm return to normal. I recommend the liquid melatonin as it is absorbed more quickly.
Best Essential Oils For Sleep
Essential oils are plant based medicine and offer a natural sleep aid that doesn't come with nasty side effects or a sleep aid hangover. I have found that essential oils are one of the best, most effective, natural remedy to assist with sleep.
I handcraft essential oil blends and our Sleep Assist Blend is a specific combination of essential oils for natural sleep support that promotes restorative and more restful sleep and has a tranquil effects on emotions.
It’s great to check off all the boxes on your ever-expanding to-do list, but when you sacrifice sleep to get it all done, you aren’t doing yourself any favors. Even practically-perfect health habits will be undermined by lack of sleep, which is your body’s repair-and-rebuild time.
If you know someone who is suffering with difficulty sleeping, please share these natural remedies with them.
Best of Health,
Hi, I'm Dr. Angela Walk
I have been involved in the health and wellness industry for over 20 years as a natural physician specializing in chiropractic and foot health. I have written extensively for health publications and I am keenly aware of trends and new developments in natural health. I embrace an active lifestyle combining diet, exercise and healthy choices.
My goal is to inform my readers of natural options available to them in hopes of improving their health and quality of life.