MountainStar Health - February 21, 2020
by Kennedy Gandy, LCSW, Behavioral Health Specialist, St. Mark’s Weight Treatment Center

It is easy with the endless stream of weight loss tips to get lost in the details of weight loss. Much of the advice we receive involves the types of food we eat and how much we eat. Yet one of the most effective ways to manage our weight in a healthy way, without having to obsess over counting calories or macronutrients, has nothing to do with eating habits. It has everything to do with our sleep. In this blog, we will take a snapshot of four hormones and how they affect our sleeping habits. In the next blog, we’ll offer a few tips to try to help regulate sleep, and thereby more effectively manage our weight.

Insulin

This is the hormone most commonly associated with diabetes, but this hormone effects everyone. When someone fails to get adequate sleep, defined as seven hours or more, our sensitivity to insulin decreases. Insulin is responsible for, among other things, helping us regulate our blood sugar. This process is directly related to our energy, so it isn’t hard to see how a lack of sleep can drastically alter our effectiveness to keep our energy levels consistent. With enough sleep, this process works in our favor, allowing us to make more consistent choices with regards to the foods we crave, especially those foods packed with energy, like grains, fruits, and sweets.

Leptin

This hormone is responsible for helping us feel full. When we don’t get enough sleep, our leptin levels decrease which leads to food losing some of its satisfaction factor. This goes hand in hand with our third hormone, ghrelin. Ghrelin is produced to stimulate hunger at the same time that it increases fat storage and lowers our metabolic rate. This is kind of the double whammy of poor sleep: we have less of the hormone that allows us to feel satisfied with food, and more of the hormone that makes us crave food.

Cortisol

When we experience chronic stress, our bodies produce cortisol in order to help us keep vigilant, just in case we need to act quickly. Cortisol remains active longer than other stress hormones like adrenaline, which takes a toll on our underlying energy levels. This results in an increase in hunger, but it also increases the reward we get out of food. If we think about it this way, cortisol is meant to keep us on edge so we can respond more quickly to threats, but it also encourages us to find ways to soothe, and what soothes better in a stressful situation than ensuring we have one of our basic needs: food.

So the next time you feel exhausted and stressed and your thoughts immediately jump to food, it may have nothing to do with your eating habits. It could very well be related to your sleeping habits. After all, our body is designed to prepare for hard times ahead, and the greatest indicator of future difficulties is present stress. A lack of sleep puts our bodies into super self-preservation mode. This results in common symptoms we are all familiar with: feeling drained, craving foods in excess (especially foods high in fats, salt, and energy), and feeling a mix of relief and the urge for more even after we eat. It is common to attribute these sensations to our personality, or to blame ourselves for these experiences. I know I’m not the only one who has dug into a bag of chips or pint of ice cream and felt a little better but then surprised by how the food disappeared and I was left with the same craving afterwards. The next time that happens, just remember it might have nothing to do with your resolve to follow your food preferences and everything to do with how much sleep you’re getting.

For more tips on getting better sleep or your weight, attend one of our free classes at www.weightlossutah.com/freeclass. You can also schedule an appointment with one of our Behavioral Health Specialists at St. Mark’s Weight Treatment Center at (801) 268-7479.