Ever wondered why you seem to gain weight during times of stress? It’s not just because you stress it. You might not be getting enough sleep. Discover more about the sleep deprivation-weight gain connection.
This month we’re talking about sleep and why it’s an important self-care tool we can all tap into for free. It costs nothing, yet has amazing benefits for our mental, academic, physical, and spiritual self-care.
That Time I Gained 60 Pounds in Nine Months and Wasn’t Pregnant
“I need to run into to Old Navy this afternoon,” I told Pedro. “Do you need anything from town?”
“Naw. I have the hospital wardrobe,” he joked, tugging on the baggy hospital gown that covered his emaciated body. “And sometimes it comes with pants.”
“Lucky you I tracked some down this morning,” I said with a laugh. “It seems like the weekend laundry service always fails to stock something.”
“Have fun,” he said. His eyes closed and he started to doze off.
Fun. Buying more clothes in bigger sizes didn’t qualify as fun in my book. I’d quit looking for pants in the woman’s section. Men’s pants fit much better these days. While Pedro lost weight on a daily basis, I seemed to gain every pound he lost.
I didn’t like it. I tried to eat as healthfully as possible, given the circumstances. But I couldn’t avoid living out of a suitcase, sleeping on a fold-out hospital bed, and having to eat out for every meal. Not if I wanted to stay close to Pedro while he received treatment for cancer a thousand miles from home.
I didn’t think I ate enough to justify a 60-pound weight gain. But I couldn’t avoid the facts. Something had gone terribly wrong with my physical self-care routine.
Almost two decades later, I know food wasn’t the only cause of my weight gain. It turns out stress and sleep play important roles in helping our bodies regulate their weight, too.
Hospitals are NOT the Place to Get a Good Night’s Sleep
Whenever Pedro had a private room in the UCSF Parnassus oncology unit, I could spend the night in his room. The narrow Naugahyde chair folded out into an uncomfortable cot where I spent my nights for weeks at a time.
Nurses came in to take Pedro’s vitals every four hours throughout the night, and I slept lightly in case Pedro needed something. His IV drips and monitors formed a cacophony of lights and sounds, making it difficult to fall asleep.
Patients have a difficult time sleeping, too. Trust me, I spent five days in a hospital a few years ago and the experience wore me out.
Those times Pedro got released from the hospital for a week or two I would return home. He would stay with his brother, who lives a few hours away from San Francisco. My sleep habits at home didn’t fare much better than my sleep habits in the hospital. My parents had moved in to take care of our girls whenever I needed to be with Pedro. I slept on the floor in our office.
During my short visits home, I had to reconnect with our girls, catch up on grading papers and making lesson plans, worry about paying bills, and fight with insurance companies. I also knew at any minute I could get called back to San Francisco because Pedro could take a turn for the worse. Sleep often eluded me.
1. Sleep Deprivation Messes with Your Hormones
According to WebMD, we have two hormones connected to our eating habits—ghrelin and leptin. Ghrelin helps us recognize hunger. It tells us to feed ourselves. Leptin helps us know when to stop eating.
In a sleep deprived person, these two hormones get out of whack. Our body produces more ghrelin and less leptin. In other words, our bodies get signals to eat, eat, eat—but no signals about when to stop.
2. Sleep Deprivation Messes with Your Self-Control
An interesting study done at the University of Chicago discovered participants craved fattier, more unhealthy foods when they were sleep-deprived. It didn’t matter if the participants normally ate healthfully. Sleep deprivation triggers a powerful need for comfort foods—which usually have higher fat contents.
Combine that with your increased ghrelin production and your lack of leptin production and you have a lose-lose situation.
3. Sleep Deprivation Puts You at Higher Risk for Diabetes
According to an article from The Sleep Foundation, “In addition to raising blood sugar levels in people who already have diabetes, sleep deprivation also raises the risk of developing insulin resistance in the first place.”
It appears sleep deprivation has a cascading effect on a person’s overall health. First, it causes us to eat more because it messes with the hormones that help us control hunger. Next, lack of sleep triggers a need for the kinds of foods that doctors warn us to eschew if we want to avoid diabetes. Finally, it causes us to develop insulin resistance.
4. Sleep Deprivation Makes You Clumsy (and Dangerous)
At least once a year in college I managed to walk down the same sidewalk and run into the same No Parking sign while talking to a friend. Every. Single. Year. And it always happened during a finals week. Each time, my pride and my body suffered a few bruises.
While not the most graceful person around, for some reason finals week brought out the clumsy in me. Now I know why. According to Dr. A. M. Williamson, “This study shows that commonly experienced levels of sleep deprivation depressed performance to a level equivalent to that produced by alcohol intoxication of at least a BAC of 0.05%.”
You read that right. Sleep deprivation and alcohol consumption produce the same types of clumsiness and slow reactions. If you feel chronically clumsy, you may also be chronically sleep deprived. Getting adequate sleep won’t turn you into a ballerina, but it should prevent you from running into signs, tripping over cracks, and twisting your ankle for no reason.
If you feel sleepy and you’re driving, you should probably pull over in a safe place and nap, too.
5. Sleep Deprivation Can Mess with Your Libido
If you don’t get enough ZZs, you may miss out on an important element of a fulfilling sex life—arousal. According to one study, men, in particular, dream more about having sex when sleep-deprived but have little desire to actually carry through.
Women, especially, have a difficult time feeling aroused if they suffer from disturbed sleep, according to a study published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine. If you’re unsure about the key role arousal plays in a healthy marriage, check out The Great Sex Rescue.
6. Sleep Deprivation Can Cause Acne
Ever noticed an outbreak of zits right before a stressful event? Scientists believe lack of sleep may play a part in acne outbreaks. And it makes sense because lack of sleep lowers our body’s ability to fight off sickness and infection.
Instead of pulling an all-nighter before a big test or presentation, plan ahead so you get plenty of rest in the days leading up to the big event.
7. Sleep Deprivation Can Contribute to Heart Disease
In case I haven’t convinced you to evaluate your sleep habits yet, have you heard about the relationship between heart disease and lack of sleep? People who don’t get enough sleep experience higher blood pressure. Missing out on sleep also means missing out on opportunities for your arteries to clean out and your blood pressure to lower.
What to Do If Your Struggle with Getting Enough Sleep
The self-care benefits of getting enough sleep seem obvious—you’ll eat healthier naturally, you lower your risk for diabetes, you won’t be as clumsy, your sex life will improve, you won’t get acne, and you’ll avoid heart disease.
But knowing about the physical self-care benefits of getting enough sleep and actually getting enough sleep aren’t the same.
If you suffer from frequent insomnia, seek medical advice. Maybe you just have a difficult time falling asleep at night. If so, check out this article on sleep hygiene from The Sleep Foundation.
Do you have any hacks for creating a great sleep environment? I’ve started putting a drop of lavender oil on my bedside lamp’s light bulb. The calming scent helps me relax and breathe deeply.Seven tolls you pay when you don't get enough sleep. #sleep #selfcare Click To Tweet