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Surprising Science

How Slight Sleep Deprivation Encourages Obesity

Losing just a couple nights' sleep is enough to cause hormonal imbalances in the body. The result is that we feel more stress and less satiated by the quantity of food we eat. 

What’s the Latest Development?

Even short-term sleep loss of just a few hours each night can change the body’s metabolism such that weight gain is more likely to occur, according to a new metastudy published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Changes to levels of hormones, specifically ghrelin and leptin, are the best-documented effects of sleep deprivation on weight gain. In one study, individuals who lost sleep for two consecutive nights felt hungrier (higher levels of ghrelin) and felt less satiated when they did eat (lover levels of leptin).

What’s the Big Idea?

Sleep deprivation also places stress on the body and mind, prompting the release of the stress-response hormone cortisol. “Heightened cortisol prompts the body to store more fat and be more inclined to use other soft tissue, such as muscle, as energy, which means that sleep-deprived dieters lose more muscle and gain more fat than do those who are well rested.” Overall, recognizing that the duration and quality of sleep we receive has an important bearing on our health will give us a more well-rounded concept of well-being, improving not only our BMI but our feeling of satisfaction with life.

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