4 Hormonal Reasons Why Bad Sleep Makes You Tired, Old and Fat
By JJ VIRGIN
Recently, a podcaster asked my number-one requirement for fast, lasting fat loss that doesn't involve diet or exercise.
I didn't need to think about my answer for one millisecond: Without sufficient sleep, fat loss comes to a grinding halt. You could do everything correctly, but screw up your sleep and your best efforts could still come up short.
You know the practical consequences of a poor night's sleep: You can't focus without a gargantuan cup of dark roast, you're snappy with people and you're craving a muffin to fuel your morning.
Out-of-whack hormones are behind that cranky, constant-craving, sleep-deprived state. As these four examples show, even one night's insufficient sleep can create a hormonal cascade that adversely affects hunger, fat burning, aging and stress levels.
1. Lack of sleep negatively impacts your hunger hormones. Your hunger-hormone arsenal includes ghrelin, which tells your brain to eat now, and leptin, which puts the brakes on hunger. Studies show lack of sleep increases ghrelin and decreases leptin levels, dialing up hunger and cravings a few notches.
2. Lack of sleep increases fat storage. As a storage hormone, insulin delivers glucose to your cells to burn or to your liver and muscle cells to store. Problems arise when those cells become resistant to insulin's call -- medically called "insulin resistance" -- sending that glucose to be repackaged as fat. Studies show just one night of bad sleep can contribute to insulin resistance, making your body store fat better and making you crave those doughnuts your co-worker brought to the office.
3. Lack of sleep lowers your fountain-of-youth hormone. Human growth hormone (GH) might be your biggest anti-aging hormone, and it also builds muscle, promotes fast fat loss and boosts immunity. Your body makes GH during deep sleep, and a study in the Journal of Psychiatry & Neuroscience found that less sleep means you make less GH.
4. Lack of sleep raises your levels of stress hormones. My friend Dr. Sara Gottfried calls cortisol a Jekyll-and-Hyde hormone. In the short term it can increase alertness, but cortisol should do its job and then leave. Chronically high cortisol levels break down muscle, store fat and wreak havoc on your immunity.
No surprise: Studies show your cortisol levels remain high even into the evening (when they should be lowest) when you don't sleep well. High cortisol burns up your energy-assisting B vitamins so you can't make the neurotransmitters you need for sound sleep. Cortisol also lowers serotonin, the feel-good hormone your brain eventually converts to melatonin, which helps you sleep better.
As you can see, insufficient sleep creates hormonal havoc. Caffeine probably becomes your drug of choice during sleep-deprived days. Yet just one cup of coffee can raise cortisol levels 30 percent for an hour and keep those levels elevated for 18 hours.
A vicious cycle ensues as the java steamroller keeps cortisol cranked up and imbalanced leptin and ghrelin levels leave you hungry and craving. Reaching for convenient muffins and other sugary foods sends your blood sugar on a roller coaster, keeping insulin on alert when it should taper down.
At the end of a long day, you find yourself wired and tired, too fatigued to hit the gym yet still revved up at 9 p.m. Discouraged, you prepare for another night of terrible sleep.
You needn't accept this fate. Sleep problems are challenging, and for the worst cases I recommend working with an integrative sleep specialist. Many clients have found simple but effective tweaks that make a huge impact on sleep.
Stay tuned for part two of this blog, in which I'll share my most effective natural remedies to take control and get deep, restorative sleep.
Readers -- Do you have trouble falling (and staying) asleep? How does it affect you the following day? Do find yourself eating badly after a bad night's sleep? What do you do to get a good night's sleep? Leave a comment below and let us know.
Celebrity nutrition and fitness expert JJ Virgin is the author of the New York Times best-seller The Virgin Diet and Six Weeks to Sleeveless and Sexy. She was also a co-host of TLC's Freaky Eaters. JJ frequently blogs for The Huffington Post, LIVESTRONG.COM and other prominent media outlets. She created the 4 x 4 Burst Training Workout and regularly appears on TV shows like Rachael Ray and Today to discuss topics such as fast fat loss, weight loss and food sensitivities.