sleep and metabolism

As many as 1 in 3 people do not get enough sleep, according to the CDC.

Everyone has had nights where they don’t sleep the recommended 7-9 hours. You may know all too well the feeling that follows a night of little sleep: you’re tired, cranky, groggy, and by the time you’re done with work the thought of exercising seems nearly impossible.

Is not getting enough sleep something you are making a habit? Be aware: not getting the adequate amount of sleep has a much greater impact on your overall health than just on your energy levels and the way your brain functions.  

In a world where not getting enough sleep is often celebrated as an indicator of high achievement, it can be easy to glamorize lack of sleep and turn a blind eye to the crucial role that sleep plays in your body’s functions- especially its role in your metabolic processes.

Many elements of your life, such as work, family, and personal obligations, and other physical and psychological factors, can ultimately lead to stress and you not getting the amount of sleep that you need.

Sleep deprivation and chronic stress are commonly associated with the increased incidence of metabolic disorders, such as obesity and type 2 diabetes. Many pathways contribute to the relationship between sleep deprivation, poor quality sleep, and the dysregulation of the metabolism, which includes sympathetic overstimulation, hormonal imbalance, and inflammation.

Even if you think you are eating well and staying active, if you’re not getting enough sleep, you could be undermining your efforts. Here are some of the reasons why.

Sleep affects your metabolism

Not getting enough sleep significantly impacts your metabolism and the release of stress hormone- both of which are associated with obesity and metabolic syndrome.

Lack of proper sleep is associated with changes in the HPA axis, the part of the nervous system that controls your stress response. A hyperactive HPA axis, sleep loss, and chronic stress can all lead to metabolic dysfunction.

Not getting enough sleep also dysregulates your secretion of cortisol, the stress hormone that works with your brain to control mood, motivation, and fear. Secretion of this hormone is controlled by the HPA axis.

Cortisol is released during times of stress, increasing heart rate, blood pressure, blood glucose, respiration and muscle tension in response. Cortisol plays an important role in many of the body’s functions, so it is important that it is secreted in the right amounts at the right time. However, too much chronic cortisol secretion contributes to a dysregulated metabolism, which can lead to weight gain and other metabolic conditions.

Research has shown that in those that were sleep deprived, the rate of decrease of cortisol concentrations in the early evening was approximately 6 times slower than that of people who got enough sleep. Elevated cortisol is linked to the development of insulin resistance, a risk factor for metabolic syndrome, obesity, and diabetes.

Sleep affects your appetite

Sleep plays a major role in your metabolic processes through its effect on your body’s hormones that determine your appetite.

Your body produces two very important hormones that influence your appetite: leptin and ghrelin. Ghrelin is the hormone that stimulates appetite, while leptin is the hormone that stimulates satiety and cues you to stop eating.

In one important study, researchers found that in those that slept less than 8 hours, BMI was proportional to decreased sleep.

What was extremely fascinating was that those who slept less had higher levels of ghrelin, and lower levels of leptin, than those who slept more.

These differences in leptin and ghrelin are likely to increase appetite, which could be influencing the increased BMI observed in people that did not get enough sleep.

Sleep restriction may alter the ability of leptin to accurately signal to the body that it has received enough food, and can create an internal misperception that the body has not taken in enough calories when in fact the caloric requirements have been met.

Sleep affects how your fat cells function

In another fascinating study conducted at the University of Chicago, researchers found that people who were sleep deprived showed a decreased insulin response.

Participants slept either 8 hours a night for 4 nights or 4.5 hours for 4 nights. After four nights of sleeping 4.5 hours per night, the insulin sensitivity of their fat cells decreased by 30%, and total-body insulin response decreased by an average of 16%.

Why is this bad? Well, body fat cells are responsible for storing and releasing energy. Insulin cues fat cells to be in storage mode, where they remove fatty acids and lipids from circulation, where they can cause damage to other tissues. When fat cells don’t respond properly to insulin, lipids can remain in the circulation and can cause serious complications, such as fatty liver disease.

The takeaway

Ultimately, there are a variety of pathways in which not getting enough sleep can put a damper on your metabolism, lead to weight gain, and increase your risk for diseases such as metabolic disorder, obesity, and type 2 diabetes.

Not getting enough sleep can mean you’re hungrier more often, more likely to overeat, and more likely to become less sensitive to insulin, which can lead to insulin resistance.

Don’t underestimate the importance of getting enough sleep on your overall health; it does more than help you have enough energy throughout the day. While you may feel like you are tolerating routinely not getting enough sleep, the truth is that you may not be tolerating the impact this lack of sleep has on your metabolism.

Author: Maggie Harriman


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