By: Shanyn Olpin

That Freshman Fifteen, may not all be from the cafeteria food. It may be because you haven't been hitting the snooze button enough. Sleep, or lack of it, not only affects your mind, it can seriously affect your waistline. Here's how.

When you are sleeping, many systems in your body are not. They are busy repairing, renewing, and restoring the damage done to the body throughout the day. Without sleep, this repair work cannot be done as efficiently and you may suffer some adverse effects the next day or longer if your sleep deprivation continues. One of the most important things your body restores at night is hormone levels.

Hormones circulate in the bloodstream and accelerate chemical reactions that are necessary for energy, development, and growth. They also carry messages from glands to target cells throughout the body, thus helping it maintain homeostasis, or balance. Your body wants to be and continually strives to be in balance!

Two interesting hormones which are produced by fat cells are leptin and ghrelin. Leptin sends signals to the brain that affect appetite. When leptin levels are low, the brain responds as if your fat stores have been depleted and slows metabolism. (See the article Why Diets Don’t Work). You don’t want low leptin levels! Since leptin is used throughout the day, its levels need to be restored while you sleep. If you don’t get enough sleep, you don’t get enough leptin. If you don't have enough leptin, you may not get the message that you are full, so you over-eat.

The other hormone, ghrelin stimulates the appetite. Levels of this hormone typically rise before meals and fall afterward. Dieters tend to have high levels of ghrelin, as do people who are sleep deprived. (See the article Why Diets Don’t Work). High levels of ghrelin may cause you to feel hungrier than you actually are.

Another hormone called serotonin is usually credited as a natural sleep aid, but it also helps with satiety, or feeling full and satisfied after a eating a meal. Satiety (or the "I am full feeling") usually takes about 20 minutes. If serotonin levels are low, you may feel hungry even when your stomach is full.  Serotonin also helps regulate moods, temper, anxiety, and relieves depression.  If serotonin is low, you may feel anxious or depressed and this can also trigger emotional eating which can also lead to weight gain.

I know that when I stay up late and do not get enough sleep, I tend to snack more the next day. I also know that when I am up late at night I tend to munch a lot. Unfortunately,  it’s not a veggie platter I usually go for, its fatty, salty, sugary, high calorie, and low nutrient foods. Whenever I lack sleep, I tend to eat more because my hormone levels are out of whack.

Here is another example to sum this up. Scientists recently conducted a sleep deprivation study on people who were trying to lose weight. They compared people who got 8 hours of sleep a night with those that only got 5.5 hours a night. They found that even though both groups lost weight, those that got less sleep lost less fat (and thus more lean muscles mass). We want to lose fat, not lean muscle mass!

These scientists theorized that sleep deprivation affects hormone secretions, namely increasing the production of ghrelin, which causes an increase of appetite, and decreasing the production of leptin, which slows the sense of satiety brought about by eating. This is the opposite of what most of us want to happen!

Sleep deprivation may also slow down metabolism.  In another study, scientists found that women who got less sleep gained more weight even though they ate FEWER calories.

In other words, make it a habit to go to bed earlier and get enough good quality sleep. Your body will thank you and so will your waistline!

For relaxation exercises and downloads to help you sleep, visit the Stress Management Place Store







  • Jane Hjorth

    What a great informational article. I have always had a problem with the waistline and have been a regular “sleep deprived” individual. As I have gotten along in years, I realize my body requires sleep and I do not have the ability to procrastinate sleep as much. To read the scientific reasoning makes it all come together for me. I was particularly interested in the hormone information. Now, to put into practice this newly acquired knowledge!

  • Jim M

    I also agree strongly with this article as I have watched my waist grow while working two full time graveyard jobs and going to school full time and having a family. Sleep it seems is an after thought on most days. In order to keep “moving” I eat lots of sugary snacks and lots energy drinks. It makes since as to why I am gaining the weight and expanding my waist line.

  • Melissa Arellano

    I believe in this article. I have three small children. I got divorced over two years ago and have since gained 15 lbs. I do the same things I was doing before, except my sleep is significantly less than it was when I was married. I am trying to better adjust my day so I may be able to sleep more at night.

  • Robbie Sweeten

    I’ve read 5 of the sleep articles in a row, as it is an issue for me. This article helps me realize that there is actually damage or more specifically a lack of repair.

  • Rob T

    I always assumed diet and exercise determined weight. But sleep loss does negatively impact many things. It is amazing that even if you are eating well and exercising, it appears as if you can gain weight just by not sleeping enough.

  • I really liked reading this article. I know a lot of students who don’t sleep at all and wonder why they are gaining so much weight. I on the other hand love to sleep so I don’t have a problem with getting enough sleep.

  • KarLee

    I feel like this article is so informational. I knew someone who was trying so hard yet unsuccessfully to lose weight. She watched what she ate and excercised but had horrible sleeping patterns and stayed up late. I guess I know getting enough sleep is essential to anyones weight loss goals.

  • Patrick Raymond

    I really liked this article about sleep affecting your waistline. I have always known that getting enough sleep is essential for many benefits, but I didn’t realize how greatly it affects my weight.

  • Darla Paulsen

    This article is great. I definately snack more when I stay up late or when I feel sleep deprived. Just knowing my body will respond that way helps me deal with it.

  • Joe N.

    Like another post I too always knew adequate sleep was beneficial but I never knew the specifics of it. This has reaffirmed my commitment to get quality and quantity sleep.

  • Amber C

    I found it very interesting that even if women ate less calories, self deprivation caused a slower metabolism, thereby making weight loss more challenging. Being a college student and full time employee, and mother makes sleep low on the priority list but to find out that I may be having trouble losing weight because I don’t get enough zzzz’s is enough to make me try to fit in an extra hour.

  • Nathan Beverley

    This explains quite a bit, both for myself and members of my family. When we get less sleep, we tend to notice that our weight goes up, and we become more short tempered and irritable.

  • Brianna Bailey

    I found this article very interesting! It has made me realize that part of the reason I can’t lose weight may be do to my lack of sleep and horrible sleep schedule. All of my hormones are probably out of whack! Thanks to this article I’m going to try to regulate my sleep schedule so I can be healthier and feel better. Maybe even lose a little weight!

  • Debbie Harding

    I work at a home care co. where I set people up on cpap machines to treat sleep apnea. Alot of them are overweight. I knew the therapy may help them lose weight. Now I know a little more about the science behind it. I’ll pass it on.

  • Debbie Harding

    I work as a respiratory assistant at a home care company, and I spent a lot of my time there setting up people on their cpap machines. A large portion of these people are very overweight. I knew that weight loss can be one of the benefits of treating your sleep apnea. I just had a conversation with a lady the other day, and I told her I hadn’t really researched the reasons, but I assumed that it had to do with, better sleep means more day time energy, which in turn makes you want to get up and move. This is great, detailed info. that I can share with my patients, next time one of them asks. So thanks, I’ll pass it on.

  • Casey Bennett

    This is very interesting. Ever since I have started my new job, I only get six hours of sleep compared to that of eight. I feel like I am losing lean muscle and putting on some fat. I still exercise and eat healthy. The only thing I have really changed is the amount of sleep I get.

  • Emily Robertson

    Lately I have been fascinated with the benefits of sleep. I’ve always known that getting enough sleep was good for me, I’ve just never known the specific reasons. Thanks! This is awesome & one more great reason to make sure I get enough sleep!

  • Ryne Barrington

    I have always been someone who could sleep at night and often fall asleep hard and fast – usually sleeping uninterrupted. Summers are definitely more difficult because I am so much busier, but I do value my rest and do try to get my quota. And I do feel much better when I am well rested.

Comments are closed.