You're likely familiar with the consequences of a terrible night's sleep. You're cranky, feeling awful, and coasting on mammoth cups of coffee along with some high-sugar impact dessert masquerading as breakfast. "It's going to be one of those days," you reluctantly say late morning, assuaging your frustration with your coworker's homemade brownies.
That miserable, out-of-whack feeling isn't just in your head. When you don't sleep well, numerous fat-regulating hormones become imbalanced, sending you on a downward spiral of hunger, cravings, blowing off your workout, and crashing on the couch after a brutal day at the office to nose dive into deep dish while watching Friends reruns.
Let's check out seven hormones that easily get knocked off balance, sometimes with just one night's terrible sleep:
- Leptin. This hormone tells your brain to put the brakes on food and stop eating. You want optimal leptin levels, but you also want your brain to get this hormone's signal. Leptin resistance occurs when your body makes this hormone but your brain can't "hear" it, leading you to overeat. One study published in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism found sleep levels influence leptin levels. Researchers discovered when leptin gets out of balance, so do other hormones like cortisol and thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH).
- Ghrelin. Leptin's polar opposite sister, ghrelin tells your brain to eat now. Increased amounts mean you're more likely to make that 11 p.m. butter pecan freezer raid. One study published in the Journal of Sleep Research found even one night of poor sleep increased ghrelin levels and hunger in healthy normal-weight men, paving the path for weight loss resistance.
- Adiponectin. This anti-inflammatory hormone helps predict heart disease risk and regulates metabolic processes like fat breakdown. Studies find optimized adiponectin reduces your risk for insulin resistance and Type 2 diabetes. One study published in the journal Physiology and Behavior concluded reduced sleep decreases adiponectin production, increasing cardiovascular risk in Caucasian women.
- Insulin. Insulin becomes a key example of "everything in balance." Cranked-up amounts of this hormone store rather than burn fat and slam your fat-cell doors shut. One study published in The Journal of Applied Physiology found chronic sleep loss decreased insulin sensitivity, increased hunger and appetite, and contributes to weight gain, insulin resistance and diabetes.
- Glucagon. This hormone releases fat to burn for energy (the opposite of insulin), so yes, glucagon is our bestie for fast, lasting fat loss. One study published in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism found 10 men who only got 4.5 hours of sleep had lower circulating levels of glucagon.
- Cortisol. This stress hormone benefits you in the short term, but it should do its job and then chill out. Chronically elevated cortisol levels store fat and break down muscle. Cortisol levels should be highest in the morning and taper throughout the day. One study published in the journal Sleep found inadequate sleep could increase stress, increase appetite and lead to metabolic and cognitive problems, setting the stage for further sleep deprivation.
- Growth hormone. Sometimes referred to as your "fountain of youth" hormone that helps build muscle, boost energy, and improve fat metabolism, you primarily make growth hormone (GH) during deep stage 4 sleep. You won't be surprised, then, to learn light sleepers and people who wake up often during the night might not be making optimal amounts. Indeed, one study published in the Journal of Psychiatry and Neuroscience showed inadequate sleep means your body makes less GH.
Optimized sleep becomes my number one strategy for fast, lasting fat loss and optimal health. Prioritize it, power down an hour before bedtime, and create a ritual that helps you drift into deep, replenishing sleep.
What's the biggest obstacle you confront after a terrible night's sleep? Mine is overdoing caffeine the next day. Share your experiences below in Comments, they might help others.
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Spiegel K, et al. Leptin levels are dependent on sleep duration: relationships with sympathovagal balance, carbohydrate regulation, cortisol, and thyrotropin. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2004 Nov;89(11):5762-71.