Written by Jessica Bennett
MS, RD, CDN is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist
Jessica Bennett, MS, RD, CDN is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist who helps individuals and groups manage weight, health, food sensitivities, and other nutrition concerns. She believes that food is our first medicine and our health and sleep can be drastically affected by what we eat. Learn more about Jessica here!
Some people are surprised to learn that as a Registered Dietitian, I often ask my patients about their sleep habits. What does sleep have to do with nutrition? Answer: A lot! Sleep can affect our appetites, metabolism, and our risk for certain diseases. Did you know poor sleep can affect your weight? Lower sleep quantity (how MUCH sleep you get) and lower sleep quality (how GOOD the sleep is) has been associated with a variety of biological effects that can contribute to weight gain.
First, let’s talk hormones. Hormones are the body’s messengers from one system or organ to another. Ghrelin is a hormone that increases appetite (makes us hungry). It is primarily made by the stomach to tell the brain to eat. Poor sleep has been shown to increase ghrelin. Have you ever noticed you’re more likely to overeat when you haven’t slept well? Ghrelin could be to blame. Another hormone called leptin signals that we’re satisfied (lets us know we’re full). Leptin is primarily made by fat cells to signal to the brain that we have enough stored fat and we can stop eating.
Poor sleep has also been shown to decrease leptin. So if we’re not sleeping well, our brains may not be getting the message that we’re full and we might keep eating more than we need to. This hormone double whammy means we’re more likely to take in excess calories when we’re not sleeping well, which can lead to weight gain. Insufficient sleep can also lower our Resting Metabolic Rate, or RMR, which is the amount of calories we naturally burn when we are at rest. Lower RMR means our bodies are burning fewer calories when we are resting, which means we’re storing more calories as fat.
As if that weren’t enough, it stands to reason that when we’re overtired, we’re less motivated to move our bodies. Less physical activity in our days means we’re using fewer calories, which can lead to weight gain.The GOOD NEWS is that improving your sleep habits can drastically improve your health and weight status!
So what can you do?
Establish good sleep habits by getting natural light during the day, eating only during the day, getting daily exercise, sticking to a regular sleep schedule, and using your CPAP machine if you have sleep apnea.
The systems within our bodies are very complex and interrelated. Some people believe that just eating well or just exercising is enough to optimize our health. The truth is that sleep affects our nutrition and nutrition can affect our sleep! No one system within our bodies is completely isolated from the others. Our body systems are in constant communication with each other through hormones and other chemical and biological messengers. Improving our sleep AND nutrition are both key components of our picture of ideal health.
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