Insomnia can spoil even the best of days, turning the night into a long and restless waste, sapping energy and making the next day a walking misery. Insomnia strikes about 25 percent of U.S. adults each year, leaving a slew of health effects in its wake. Insomnia can make life difficult in so many ways, including what it can do to your waistline. Research shows regularly getting fewer than 7 hours of sleep increases the chance of becoming obese, and the less sleep you get, the heavier you’re likely to be. This is likely due to the effects insomnia has on hormones that affect appetite and fat distribution.
It might seem like a strange connection, but research has shown sleep deprivation can cause weight gain. In fact, getting fewer than 7 hours of sleep each night increases the risk of becoming obese. To add insult to injury, the less sleep, the higher that body mass index (BMI) is likely to be. The related weight gain is likely due to multiple factors, but the biggest culprits appear to be connected to changes in hormones that affect appetite and weight distribution.
Late-night munchies? Insomnia could be contributing to it. One study found that sleep deprivation reduces self-control with food, especially with fats and carbohydrates. This may be because an important function of sleep is to help the body reduce its energy use. When it’s plagued with insomnia, it may compensate for all that lost energy by sending signals to increase the appetite — only the cues to eat may lead to excessive calorie consumption, and that can add up to one big problem.
People who suffer from chronic sleep deprivation may also find themselves chronically deficient in melatonin, a hormone the body makes to aid in sleep. Deficiencies in hormones like melatonin can have numerous health effects, one of them being weight gain.
A study on rats associated higher melatonin levels with lower body weight, even without any differences in food intake. Another study showed melatonin increased ratios of “beige fat,” which promotes weight loss by increasing overall calories burned. When someone is deficient in melatonin, they’re not getting any of those benefits. The result is a slower metabolism and a harder time keeping off excess weight.
Insomnia might be unavoidable sometimes, but when it becomes chronic, it can wreak havoc on the body. If sleepless nights are happening to you, it's important to take charge before it affects other aspects of your health. Reduce the effects of insomnia by tackling it head-on with lifestyle changes, counseling or medication. You might lose a few pounds in the process.