Are you guilty of sleeping less than 7-8 hours at night? Are you watching screens at night? Are you not prioritizing your sleep?
You are not alone. Hundreds of thousands of people worldwide suffer from chronic sleep deprivation. This can be as a result of many reasons such as stress, parenting, stressful living circumstances, screen time and social media, and an increased occupational workload burden. Sleep is an essential process which enables our body systems to rest and rejuvenate in order to operate and function effectively.
It has been documented that as sleep shortens, obesity prevalence rises. Those who sleep more are generally leaner.
The general guideline for sleep duration is 7-9 hours every night. However, each one of us is uniquely different. Some people may require slightly less/more sleep. Remember there are confounders here too. Sleep requirements increase in periods of growth, menstruation and intense physical activity.
There are two hormones which are responsible for regulating hunger and satiety. The hunger hormone is Ghrelin, and the satiety or “fullness” hormone is called Leptin.
Chronic short sleep or sleep deprivation disrupts the regulation of these hormones. Very simply when you sleep less you produce more of the hunger hormone. This impairs your ability to self-regulate your food intake. It can result in a marked increased intake of total calories (energy intake). It also results in a change in the composition, and distribution of food intake. The trend towards unhealthy food choices, and more regular food intake (SNACKING) because less leptin and more ghrelin are circulating in the blood (consistent feeling of hunger).
You may be eating more with even realizing. For example, having one rusk instead of two, getting the large latte instead of your small one or having seconds at lunch or supper. Doing things like this every day, every week and month, can lead to steady weight gain.
Have you ever experienced that your stomach is a “bottomless pit”, and you cannot satisfy your hunger? Maybe when you are hungover after too many drinks on a Saturday night? This is most likely due to the fact that you only slept for 5 hours, or that the alcohol disrupted your sleep quality, and now you have elevated levels of the hunger hormone ghrelin in your body.
When you are overtired, or sleep deprived you may find yourself craving calorie dense, high fat, high refined carbohydrate and high sodium fast foods as opposed to nutritious energy balanced meals. You will most probably order a toasted bacon and cheese sandwich and chips for lunch at work as opposed to grilled chicken strips and vegetables. You will be more likely to swing past the vending machine to collect a Coca-Cola and packet of Doritos. Even worse you may find yourself swinging past McDonalds or KFC drive through after work as ghrelin drives your appetite through the roof.
Stress is a common cause for poor sleep habits and sleep deprivation. In periods of stress, the hormone cortisol is produced. Chronic stress (and cortisol) increases circulating levels of blood sugar as the body is continuously in “fight or flight mode”. This can also result in increased appetite.
There is another hormone at play in this equation and it is called Melatonin. This hormone is responsible for regulating the bodies sleep wake cycle and circadian rhythms. It is released by the pineal gland in response to darkness (at night). Its secretion is suppressed by light. Exposing yourself to screens and technology at night opposes the production of this hormone. You may fall asleep when you close your laptop at 11pm, however melatonin will only reach its peak concentration some hours later. Therefore, you impair the quality of your sleep much later into the night.
Turn the main lights off sooner, decrease your screen time and start prioritizing your sleep! This is only the start of a multitude of health benefits from adequate sleep. You can thank us later.