If you’ve been trying to lose weight, you know the tried-and-true formula of calories in/calories out. However, simply working out and limiting calories doesn’t always work – at least not optimally. New research has revealed that sleep might be a third crucial ingredient in the recipe for weight loss, and conversely, that lack of sleep can sabotage weight-loss regimens. It’s just one more confirmation that high-quality sleep, and enough of it, is a basic human need.

What’s the relationship between sleep and weight gain?

It seems simple, right? You don’t get enough sleep, so you’re tired. You’re tired, so you exercise less. You exercise less, the calorie input-to-output ratio gets flipped, and you gain weight.

As it turns out, there’s a bit more to it.

There is a research-proven correlation between obesity rates and poor sleep quality. It’s also true that overweight people tend to have lower-quality sleep than those of average weight.

It all makes sense when you consider the numerous ways in which sleep loss promotes weight gain.

Appetite & Sleep

Being tired can make us hungrier. That’s because, for at least some of us, our bodies believe we can use energy from food to make up for the lack of energy caused by poor sleep. Unfortunately, the dietary overcompensation doesn’t work. “Insufficient sleep promotes hunger and appetite” according to University of Chicago researcher Eve Van Cauter. In clinical studies, subjects consistently ate more calories when they were tired than when they were well-rested, and they also did more snacking.

The Role of Hormones

On a hormonal level, sleep deprivation makes an enormous impact on those natural substances that regulate our behavior and bodily systems. Most commonly known is the balance between hormones called Ghrelin, Leptin, and Cortisol. Ghrelin increases appetites and tells the body when it’s time to eat. Leptin is the off-switch or appetite suppressor. And cortisol is the chemical for energy conservation responsible for telling the body when to store calories as fat. A lack of sleep increases Ghrelin, decreases Leptin, and causes Cortisol to spike, with predictable results.

The Genetic Link

If all this weren’t enough, there are even more chemicals, called endocannabinoids, which affect both appetite and your body’s reward system. These compounds might explain why we reach for fatty and sweet snacks when we’re sleep-deprived. With insufficient sleep, our endocannabinoid levels increase, and our hunger lasts longer and is more intense.

Your Brain on Insomnia

In addition to these other factors, sleep deprivation diminishes a variety of brain activities known as executive functioning and inhibits the decision-making centers in our brains. Among other things, executive functioning includes impulse control and emotional reactivity. For those who have cravings for unhealthy foods, who are more likely to eat when stressed, or who eat impulsively, insomnia makes it harder to resist indulging.

Great sleep is worth the investment.

We’ve made the case for great sleep before, but the medical evidence continues to pile up. Good sleep is a requirement for an awesome quality of life. If your sleep has been suffering, get a sleep study, replace your old mattress, or talk to your doctor. Scientists agree — sacrificing sleep simply isn’t worth the negative effects on your brain and body.

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