Sleep and Your Weight

Sufficient quality sleep has so many health benefits. I recently did a deep dive into an aspect of sleep which I found quite surprising; sleep impacts our ability to manage our weight.

Yes, it’s true. Getting sufficient good quality sleep moderates our appetite. There are three players identified in this; the hormones ghrelin and leptin, and the neurotransmitter endocannabinoid.

Ghrelin is the hormone which drives our hunger. Leptin is the hormone which signals to us that we are full. When we don’t get sufficient quality sleep, the ghrelin levels go up and the leptin levels go down. That means we’re hungrier and feel less satisfied when we eat.

But wait, there’s more! Endocannabinoids also impact our hunger. Endocannabinoids are cannabinoids we produce in our bodies, and they have many roles which contribute to our health. As the name suggests, cannabinoids are present in cannabis. You may be aware of the “munchies” cannabis users experience. That is a real thing, and our endocannabinoids drive our hunger too. When we don’t get sufficient quality sleep the endocannabinoid levels increase, and we get the munchies.

Why might this happen? The current theory is based on us having evolved as hunter gatherers. Humans like all other animals only missed sleep if there was some kind of emergency, the most common being a famine. During a famine our bodies needed to drive us to find anything which may help us to survive. This meant extending our waking hours to search further afield for food. This reduced sleep triggered our bodies to produce more ghrelin and endocannabinoids and less leptin. All this drove hunger and prompted us to eat whatever we could find, even foods we would not normally eat.

Just how much of an impact does this have on us today? Research shows someone who is sleep deprived is likely to eat between 200 and 300 more calories in a day than someone who has slept well. Not only that, but those sleep deprived are more likely to gravitate towards unhealthy highly processed food choices.

If you’re interested in improving your sleep to allow you to manage your weight better, take a look at some of my tips in this sleep article and this sleep article, and my free e-book on sleep. In addition, check out these resources:

Why We Sleep, Dr Matthew Walter

The Matt Walker Podcast – Sleep & Weight Gain Part 1 and Part 2