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How do stress and poor sleep affect weight?

Marjorie Nolan Cohn
Nutrition & Dietetics

There are several ways that stress and sleep affect weight, generally causing weight gain. First, stress causes many people to stress eat. Stress eating is a type of emotional eating, which contributes to excess calories and when done often enough causes weight gain. In addition, the types of food people crave when stressed are usually high fat and sugar. Second, stress causes the body to produce more of the hormone cortisol. Cortisol is a stress hormone that promotes body fat and makes it harder to lose weight, especially around the stomach. Third, when someone is stressed they generally sleep less. Less sleep, chronic fatigue causes the hormone ghrelin to rise. Ghrelin is the primary hunger hormone, and causes someone to feel hungry even when they don’t need to eat.

How do stress and poor sleep mess with weight loss? Chronic stress boosts levels of feel-hungry hormones, which leads many people to reach for caloric comfort foods to ease their anxiety. Many of those foods are not only higher in waist-padding sugar and fat, they're also addictive, so the more you eat, the more you crave. Lack of sleep can interfere with your metabolism, cranking up your appetite while making you too weary to exercise. 

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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.