Girl sleeping

Early cycling classes. Late nights. Approaching holidays. Fall quarter can be a busy time, and it might be difficult to get enough sleep each night. But it's important to do so because sleep deprivation affects several factors related to health and weight management.

For one thing, sleep deprivation, even short-term, can lower leptin levels. Leptin is a powerful satiety hormone that tells the brain/body it”™s had enough food and doesn”™t need more. (Leptin”™s functions are far more complex and diverse than these, but for the purposes of a short post on sleep, health and weight, this will serve.) The name leptin means “thin”, so if it”™s not working properly or is in short supply, it can create the opposite effect.

Another thing inadequate sleep can do is raise levels of ghrelin. The hormone ghrelin works in opposition to leptin and stimulates the part of the brain that promotes eating. This "monster” hormone increases appetite, decreases metabolic rate, and even promotes a preference for fats.

Because ghrelin has such a negative influence on appetite and weight, it pays to know what else triggers it. A high-fat diet (even a high-fat meal) can do that, so keep your fat intake moderate. The type of fat — saturated or unsaturated — doesn”™t seem to affect ghrelin levels but, for health reasons, unsaturated fats — omega-3s and omega-9s — are recommended. One obvious exception is raw, organic coconut oil: it”™s saturated but extremely healthful. Still, use it moderately.

Sleep deprivation can also reduce melatonin. When we sleep, the brain releases melatonin, an anti-inflammatory hormone that can help heal any number of things in the body. Since inflammation is the source of most (some sources say ALL) disease, getting enough sleep is a key to staying healthy.

Getting too little sleep can trigger pro-inflammatory chemicals that make us less responsive to insulin, and that's never a good thing - either for health or for weight. Insulin resistance underlies many metabolic disorders. Those disorders include diabetes, hypertension, high triglycerides, high cholesterol, heart disease, breast cancer, colorectal cancer, polycystic ovary syndrome and polycystic kidney disease. Because these disorders tend to occur in clusters, someone with one is likely to have several.

Insulin resistance can contribute to weight gain, as well. If you have students who struggle with their weight, this is worth passing along to them. We typically hear that insulin resistance is the result of obesity/overweight. That”™s true, but insulin resistance can actually cause overweight, too. I”™ve mentioned this in previous posts, but here”™s a brief summary. Body tissues differ in their sensitivity to insulin. The primary site of insulin resistance is skeletal muscle. Insulin resistant muscle doesn”™t respond to insulin, so glucose isn”™t transported to muscle tissue and is instead transported to fat deposits. In short, anything that decreases insulin sensitivity is bad news for health and for weight. (Diet can be a significant cause of insulin resistance, but we”™ll limit this article to the effects of sleep deprivation.)

So the bottom line is pretty straightforward. Be sure to make sleep a priority, even when — or especially when — you're busy.


Joan Kent

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