“I gotta tell ya Paulie, you were soooo right! I’ve been getting much better sleep these past couple of months and I feel so much better! I had no idea how my crummy sleep habits affected my appetite. I was fat as a tick and was always so hungry I could eat the north end of a south-bound goat. Lately, I’ve been getting so skinny I’m about to fall through my own arse!”


And so Teddy colorfully reported when we had our monthly check-in last week, which we do regularly with our online members. He continues to do well and is down 15 lbs total from early January. Steady progress.


What he’s talking about is the effect that sleep deprivation has on our appetite, and consequently on our weight gain or loss.


Perhaps more than any other factor affecting our health and fitness or nearly every other aspect of our lives, the amount of sleep we get is possibly the most powerful performance enhancer or inhibitor over which we have some control.


Like everybody I know, Teddy was busy and stressed out. He had classically poor sleep habits. He did work emails late into the night trying to catch up after the kids were in bed. He’d climb into bed after midnight and watch Sports Center while checking social media on his phone. He’d eventually get a bit drowsy and put down the phone and shut off the TV, but then would lie there for a long time trying to fall asleep. He had to be up by 6 AM most mornings in order to get to work on time. This routine left him in chronic sleep debt. On weekends, he’d try to “catch up” on his sleep, but he’d also have a few drinks and the alcohol often interrupted his sleep when he most needed it.


Teddy’s not alone. Sleep deprivation is such a pervasive chronic condition that the CDC asserts, “insufficient sleep is a public health epidemic”! Sleep-related problems impact as many as 50 to 70 million Americans of all ages and socioeconomic strata, with 25 percent of U.S. adults reporting insufficient sleep or rest at least 15 out of every 30 days. As many as 11% of Americans report insufficient sleep every night!


The quantity and quality of our sleep has a profound effect on our weight gain or loss. Getting too little of it adversely affects two critical hormones that govern our appetite.


Leptin and Ghrelin…


Leptin is a hormone, secreted from fat cells, that regulates satiety, our sense of feeling full. When it is low, or if we become resistant to it, we tend to eat more than we should. Ideally, when we’ve consumed enough to satisfy our body’s energy demands, fat cells will release more leptin, signaling that we’ve had enough and should stop eating.


Ghrelin is leptin’s partner in regulating appetite. Secreted by the stomach, it stimulates hunger. When the body senses that it needs more energy, it will secrete more ghrelin, making us hungry.


Sleep debt messes with this balancing act.


Short sleep, defined as 5 hours of habitual sleep, is associated with lower levels of leptin, an average decrease of 15% from those who sleep 8 hours or more. Similarly, we see an increase in ghrelin of 15% for those who sleep 5 hours or less.


The effect is that those in sleep debt will feel hungrier, will eat more and then feel less full than those who sleep 8 hours per night.


Sleep Debt Can Really Hit Hard, and Fast!


The weight gain from this imbalance can be fast and unforgiving. An elegant and compelling study of lean young adults by researchers at the University of Colorado demonstrated that participants who slept about five hours gained 2 lbs in as little as five days!


Not only will sufficient sleep help us to properly maintain the delicate hormonal balance that governs our appetite and satiety but getting adequate “sleep resulted in reduced… sugar intake,” and “lesser consumption of sugars in syrups, fruit juices, honey, and sugars added by manufacturers in various food products.”


Knowing Versus Doing…


As with everything related to our health, knowing what’s best for us is no guarantee that we’ll take action to make substantive and beneficial change. There’s often a massive gap between knowing and doing. Thankfully, Teddy heeded my advice and is seeing encouraging results.


Change is hard. Changing our sleep habits can be really hard. It requires giving up some of our sacred cows, such as TV shows that we love or social media feeds that we’re addicted to. It requires addressing our dependencies to technology and constant stimulation. It requires the cooperation and conditioning of the people around us. And finally, it requires discipline.


But, I will assert that successfully adopting healthy sleep habits will open up an amazingly bright and beautiful new world to us. Sure, like Teddy has discovered, it will help us to better control our weight. But, it can literally make every aspect of our lives profoundly better.


Julie’s Small Group Nutrition Coaching will dive into this in much more depth in week six of the program.


As we predicted, the initial session that begins this week has sold out and we have a growing waitlist. But, no worries, she is planning to open a new session beginning the week of July 22nd.


We cap these groups at eight, and we’ve got two folks already on the waitlist. So, if you were considering jumping in with the first session, please fill out an application to claim one of the six remaining spots. Click the button below.


If you don’t live nearby, not to worry. All of the live sessions will be held remotely using Skype. They will be recorded for those who aren’t able to attend.


You can reach Julie with your questions at julie@midstrong.com.


Be strong and have fun!


Works cited:

  1. Breus, Michael. “Sleep Deprivation and Weight Gain.” Your Guide to Better Sleep, TheSleepDoctor, 5 Apr. 2018, thesleepdoctor.com/2018/04/10/sleep-deprivation/.
  2. Graham, Sarah. “Sleep Deprivation Tied to Shifts in Hunger Hormones.” Scientific American, 7 Dec. 2004, www.scientificamerican.com/article/sleep-deprivation-tied-to/?redirect=1.
  3. “Is a Lack of Sleep Leading You to Eat More Sugar?” Medical News Bulletin | Health News and Medical Research, 9 Mar. 2018, www.medicalnewsbulletin.com/lack-of-sleep-leading-eat-more-sugar/.
  4. Taheri S, Lin L, Austin D, Young T, Mignot E (2004) Short Sleep Duration Is Associated with Reduced Leptin, Elevated Ghrelin, and Increased Body Mass Index. PLoS Med 1(3): e62. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.0010062
  5. “The State of SleepHealth in America.” SleepHealth, American Sleep Apnea Association, 2016, www.sleephealth.org/sleep-health/the-state-of-sleephealth-in-america/.
  6. Wright, Kenneth. “Less Sleep Leads to More Eating and More Weight Gain, According to New CU-Boulder Study.” CU Boulder Today, 20 July 2016, www.colorado.edu/today/2013/03/11/less-sleep-leads-more-eating-and-more-weight-gain-according-new-cu-boulder-study.


Paul Reilly

Paul is the Owner and Founder of MidStrong. He created MidStrong in 2017 to train men and women in midlife who are busy with work and family to build muscle and burn fat so they can look and feel better than they did in their 20’s. MidStrong is making Functional Fitness training safe and fun, and inclusive. He and his wife, Julie also own and operate MidStrong locally, their bricks and mortar business, previously called ACCELERATED Strength & Balance. It is a boutique fitness center specializing in training folks in and around Westborough through the challenges of midlife for more than five years.