Is lack of sleep making you fat?

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Now here's the thing. It is not just the hours you spend in your crib BUT the quality of those hours that really counts. Restorative sleep - the deep slow-wave sleep cycle - is prime time for the body to produce growth hormone, a protein that regulates the body's proportions of fat and muscle.

Sleep loss can also make you feel hungry due to excess secretion of cortisol - the stress hormone that also regulates appetite. This results in increased appetite and reduced capacity to burn fat.   Further, the two hormones that are key in maintaining healthy weight are ghrelin and leptin. Ghrelin tells us to eat and lack of sleep ensures we have more of this hormone racing around our bodies. On the flip side, being sleep-deprived means you have less leptin available - the hormone that tells us to stop eating.

Here are some simple habits you can adopt that will help to break the cycle and add quality sleep to your life. 

  • Avoid heavy meals, alcohol and caffeine in the evening. I don't have caffeine after 2pm or it really messes with my ability to fall asleep;
  • Have a set time to go to bed and to rise. The body will grow accustomed to this and settle into the pattern;
  • Make the bedroom a place for sleeping - no TVs, work or screens. Your brain will then associate that place as a place for restorative rest;
  • Try hard to leave the iPad, mobile etc in the living room - still a work in progress for me but if you struggle to go to sleep the light stimulation from these devices is telling your brain it is not bedtime yet;
  • If you wake up during the night and can't get back off to sleep then allow 20 mins to resettle - no longer - and then get up, have a warm (non-caffeinated) drink and perhaps read a book until you start to feel sleepy. This way you don't start to associate the bedroom with the stress of not sleeping.

If you seem to be getting enough hours in bed but wake up feeling tired and unrefreshed then it is worth seeing a specialist to find out why you are not getting restorative sleep. Snoring and sleep apnoea can be stealing away your sleep - and often your partner's rest too!

Last but certainly not least good nutrition and an appropriate exercise regimen will really help to add quality to your sleep time.