How can lack of sleep affect my appetite?

Jacob Teitelbaum
Integrative Medicine
When you don’t get between seven and nine hours of sleep a night, you feel tired and crave sugar to artificially generate energy.

A lack of sleep has also been shown to directly increase appetite and weight gain. As researchers at Laval University in Quebec City, Quebec, found, if you aren’t getting enough sleep you have a 30 percent higher risk of becoming obese and can expect an average weight gain of five pounds.
Deep sleep regulates growth hormone (the “fountain of youth hormone”), and controls the production of leptin and ghrelin. Together, these three hormones regulate appetite. This means if you don’t get enough sleep you’ll want to eat more, especially sugar! Growth hormone also helps turn fat into muscle. Increased muscle mass helps you burn calories more efficiently and improves insulin sensitivity-in other words, it stops sugar cravings and makes you thinner.

Lack of sleep can lead to insulin resistance. This means you cannot get sugar out of the bloodstream and into your cells where it is needed for fuel, so your body cries out for sugar but can’t burn the sugar you eat. You’re left endlessly craving sugar, overweight, exhausted, and even diabetic.
When you get seven to nine hours of sleep a night, you take a huge step toward optimizing your energy, decreasing your appetite, and slashing your sugar cravings. Getting adequate, regular sleep will also leave you feeling energized-your mind will be clearer and you’ll look younger and thinner. Many people find that getting optimal sleep even makes chronic pain disappear.
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Michael T. Murray, ND
Naturopathic Medicine
Sleep deprivation increases hunger and slows down metabolism, making it more difficult to maintain or lose weight. It does so by:
Increasing the level of cortisol, thereby promoting increased appetite, cravings for sugar, and weight gain. An elevated cortisol level also interferes with proper utilization of carbohydrates, leading to an increase in the storage of body fat and insulin resistance, a critical step in the development of obesity and diabetes.
Elevating ghrelin and reducing leptin. Ghrelin is an appetite stimulating hormone released mostly by the stomach. When ghrelin levels are up, people feel hungry. Leptin is a hormone released by fat cells that promotes a feeling of satiety.
A study conducted at the Sleep, Chronobiology and Neuroendocrinology Research Laboratory at the University of Chicago Hospitals examined the effect of sleep deprivation on ghrelin and leptin in subjects who were limited to four hours in bed for two consecutive nights and compared them to levels measured when the subjects were allowed up to ten hours in bed for two nights. Leptin levels were 18 percent lower and ghrelin levels were 28 percent higher when the subjects only slept four hours compared to ten. In addition, the sleep-deprived men who had the biggest hormonal changes also said they felt the most hungry and craved carbohydrate-rich foods, including cakes, candy ice cream, pasta, and bread. Those who had the smallest changes reported being the least hungry.
Watch as Dr. Michael Breus discusses how sleep deprivation can increase hunger and contribute to weight gain.
Ms. Ashley Koff, RD
Nutrition & Dietetics
If you don't get enough sleep to keep your body's engine humming, you'll start to throw your appetite hormones out of whack. Sleep is not a luxury.

The two digestive hormones that control your feelings of hunger and appetite are ghrelin and leptin. As with many hormones, these two are paired together but have opposing functions. One says "Go" and the other says "Stop." Ghrelin (your "Go" hormone) gets secreted by the stomach when it's empty and increases your appetite. It sends a message to your brain that you need to eat. When your stomach is full, fat cells usher out leptin (your "Stop" hormone) so your brain gets the message that you are full and need to stop eating. A bad night's sleep -- or just not enough sleep -- creates an imbalance of both ghrelin and leptin.

Studies now prove that when people are allowed just four hours of sleep a night for two nights, they experience a 20 percent drop in leptin and an increase in ghrelin. They also have a marked increase (about 24 percent) in hunger and appetite. And what do they gravitate toward? Calorie-dense, high-carbohydrate foods like sweets, salty snacks, and starchy foods. Sleep loss essentially disconnects your brain from your stomach, leading to mindless eating. It deceives your body into believing it's hungry (when it's not), and it also tricks you into craving foods that can sabotage a healthy diet.
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Our bodies and those of other animals have developed so that sleep triggers important appetite-suppression mechanisms. The brain links wakefulness with hunger and food-seeking behavior. So if we're short-changing ourselves on sleep, our bodies will insist that we eat more than we need to. Some people think they eat less when they're sleeping more because they have fewer hours awake when they can overeat. While this is true, it's important to remember that staying up late makes us want to overeat because we lose our body's natural appetite suppressant - sleep!
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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.