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Everyone has a bad night’s sleep sometimes. And while you probably know that a single night of tossing and turning can throw you off your game for the next day or two, the reality is actually much worse than that. One in three Americans is chronically short on sleep,[1] and the science is clear that poor sleep is tied to obesity.

Wait, what?!

Let me say that again — getting shitty sleep makes it harder for you to lose weight, or even just maintain a healthy weight.

It might seem backwards. After all, you’re not sleeping well because you don’t have time, because you’re always on the go, because you can’t afford to slow down. All those extra hours doing things have to be burning more calories, right?

Well, here’s the deal. When you don’t get a full night’s sleep — and we’re talking about restful sleep that comes naturally and healthfully, not a “sleep of the dead” that’s brought on by sleep aids (whether prescription or over-the-counter) or alcohol — your body undergoes a number of changes.

When you don’t get enough sleep, there’s a big shift in your hormones. First, your body produces more ghrelin, which creates hunger signals in the brain. To make things worse, your body produces less leptin, which is a hunger suppressant that creates signals in the brain that you’re full.[2] This means you’re going to eat a lot more.

Furthermore, inadequate sleep leads to an increase in the production of cortisol, a stress hormone that can also kick up your appetite.[3] What’s worse, increases in appetite due to a sleep-deprived state are more likely to drive you to unhealthy high-carb foods.[4][5]

And someone who’s chronically short on sleep isn’t likely to be able to counteract those hormonal challenges by exercising more. In fact, those of us who suffer from even mild levels of sleep deprivation are likely to increase food intake without doing any additional exercise.[6] Besides, if you aren’t able to find enough time to get a good night’s sleep, are you really going to be able to find extra time in your day to exercise more?

Bad sleep might even cause a drop in your resting metabolism. The science is still developing on this point, but it’s been shown that bad sleep habits can cause muscle loss over time, which itself can have the effect of cutting your resting metabolic rate.[7]

Let’s also keep in mind that when you’re exhausted, your judgement is off. You don’t have the same motivation and willpower that you do when you’re well rested. This results in skipping the gym, eating foods that you probably wouldn’t otherwise, and maybe soothing yourself with foods, or beverages, that can cause you to have another bad night’s sleep.

So what’s a person to do? The solution is simple, though it might not be easy.

You need to put in the work to prioritize quality sleep as part of a healthy lifestyle. Getting 4-5 hours of fitful sleep a night should not be viewed as a badge of honor, or a sign that you’re living large. It should be viewed as an alarm bell that something needs to change.

In our next article we’re going to discuss some strategies for boosting the time you spend in bed, as well as the quality of the sleep you get.


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