Have you been trying hard to lose weight without much success? You’ve attempted all the popular diets over the years from Atkins to keto cut back on all your favorite foods, and pumped up your gym action to heroic levels. Annoyingly, nothing seems to work anywhere near as well as you’d hoped, especially considering all the effort you’ve put in.
Yes, it’s dispiriting. However, it may be that you’re overlooking one very simple but extremely important factor in your quest to drop the pounds: your sleeping habits.
Fatigue Makes You Hungry!
The simple fact is that a lack of sleep leads to fatigue, and for most people a natural response to this condition is a feeling of false hunger. Although your lack of energy is down to tiredness, your body seeks to give you a boost by taking on calories, and it pays little need to your best dieting intentions.
This extra hunger is bad enough, but unfortunately it gets worse – tired people often subconsciously seek out foods that provide fast energy, which are invariably high in fats and sugars. It only takes a few of these lapses to undo a week worth of dedicated slimming effort.
However, regular fatigue also causes deeper dieting problems which are related to body chemistry and metabolism.
Lack of sleep has been shown to disrupt the body’s reactions to insulin. This makes fat cells less efficient in releasing their fatty acids when your body needs an energy lift, and so the response is once again a feeling of hunger, alongside increased difficulty in shifting body fat.
To make things worse, if the insulin in your system is less effective, your body will tend to produce more of it to compensate. In extreme cases, this can lay the groundwork for future diabetes, but in short-term it means that appetite is unpredictable, and calorie intake is harder to regulate as part of a diet plan.
Regular fatigue disturbs the body’s chemistry in other ways too. Leptin and ghrelin are two hormones closely linked with appetite and energy. Leptin quells hunger when your body has taken in sufficient energy, while ghrelin is the “feast or famine” hormone that prompts you to eat as much as you can while food is available, and lay down excess energy as fats for use in leaner times.
Lack of sleep disrupts both these hormones with a terrible dual-action effect. Less leptin in your system means your appetite is harder to sate, while excess ghrelin constantly urges you to eat more to build up your fat reserves. Clearly, this double whammy will present a challenge to any diet plan.
Too little sleep also raises levels of the hormone cortisol. This has two highly undesirable effects. Firstly, it dampens the pleasure centers of the brain associated with eating, so that you need to eat more to feel satisfied. Secondly, and even more seriously, it alters the way your body turns its reserves into energy. Raised cortisol levels mean that more muscle tissue is converted, instead of the fatty tissues that all dieters are targeting.
Finally, being fatigued impairs focus and makes you less able to resist temptation. When you’re tired you can feel down, less motivated, and more likely to reach for comfort food instead of concentrating on your diet aims, even when you’re not feeling physically hungry.
The end result of all this is the habitual tiredness will make you constantly hungry, will reduce your body’s ability to convert fats into energy, and will drain your willpower to succeed in your diet. Clearly, if you want to make lasting progress in losing weight, a good night’s sleep is essential.
–Mehmet Oz, M.D.
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