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the importance of sleep

Does the Lack of Sleep Impact your Waistline?

Sleep and Your Waistline

If I could bottle sleep and sell it as an effective weight loss supplement, I’d be a rich woman. Thankfully, you don’t need to “buy” sleep for weight loss; you can prioritize it and align your schedule to make it happen. When I meet patients for the first time, one of the things that we discuss is their sleep hygiene. This is especially important if they are seeking weight loss. Why is this so important?

Testosterone and Muscle Formation

Have you ever thought that sleep might play a roll in your ability to build muscle? Testosterone is found in both men and women, though women have much lower amounts. It is essential for muscle formation, as it increases neurotransmitters, which encourage tissue growth, and also interacts with nuclear receptors in DNA resulting in protein synthesis. Testosterone also plays a role in fat metabolism, helping us burn fat more efficiently. Dropping levels of testosterone can cause an increase in body fat (yikes!).

So what does this have to do with insufficient sleep?

If you notice you have less stamina in the gym, are having problems building muscle or have increased body fat…your hormones might be suffering from lack of sleep. Need evidence? A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) found that cutting back on sleep drastically reduces a healthy young man’s testosterone level. Young men who slept less than five hours a night for one week in a laboratory were found to have significantly lower levels of testosterone than when they had a full night’s sleep. Eve Van Cauter, PhD, professor in medicine and director of the study further reported that low testosterone has a host of negative consequences for young men that reached beyond sexual behavior and reproduction. It negatively affected their ability to build strength and muscle mass, and poorly impacted bone density.

We tend to think of young men as being pretty resilient. They seem to be able to eat anything they want without gaining a pound. This study reveals otherwise. If they are negatively impacted by lack of sleep, how much more are we?

Importance of Sleep!

Importance of Sleep!


Cortisol is glucocorticoid (steroid hormone) that is produced from cholesterol in the two adrenal glands located on top of each kidney. It is normally released in response to events and circumstances such as waking up in the morning, exercising, and acute stress.

Lack of sleep is a stressor on our bodies.

  • What happens when we are stressed for long periods of time? Our bodies produce Cortisol. Cortisol is beneficial when we are in a “fight or flight” situation and need to flee. It, along with epinephrine, gives us the energy to run! However, our bodies are not able to tell the difference between stress from the threat of a lion attacking or the chronic stressors of everyday life, such as lack of sleep. Cortisol continues to be produced and long-term, this has detrimental effects on our body.

First, it can impact blood sugar.

  • Under stressful conditions, cortisol provides the body with glucose by tapping into protein stores via gluconeogenesis in the liver. Again, if we were running from a lion this would be good, as the energy would help us run faster. However, elevated cortisol over the long term consistently produces glucose, leading to increased blood sugar levels. What happens to un-used glucose? It gets stored as body fat (lovely).

Additionally, studies have found a direct association between Cortisol levels and calorie intake in women.

  • Studies suggest that Cortisol might bind to hypothalamus receptors in the brain causing us to have food cravings. If that weren’t enough, Cortisol also indirectly influences appetite by modulating other hormones and stress responsive factors known to stimulate appetite.

Lastly, chronic elevated Cortisol levels have been shown to increase visceral fat storage.

  • This refers to the fat cells located deep in the abdomen under the muscle. This type of fat is also associated with increased risk of cardiovascular disease and other co-morbidities.  Through increased cortisol, poor sleep results in a cascade of attacks on our appetite and waistline! Get sleep!!

Appetite Regulating Hormones

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you’re familiar with leptin and grehlin, as I mention them a lot. For those who don’t, I’ll fill you in. Leptin is the hormone that signals satiety to our brain. It gives us that “full” feeling that makes us want to stop eating. On the other hand, ghrelin is the hormone our body produces that let’s us know we’re hungry.

The production of these hormones is greatly impacted by sleep (or the lack thereof). When we don’t get enough sleep, leptin levels decrease while ghrelin levels increase. Our body is really fighting us when we don’t get sleep. Not only are we producing a hormone that makes us feel more hungry, we’re also producing less of the hormone that helps us stop eating! Yikes! Research shows that this happens after just one night of poor sleep. Additionally, researchers found that habitual sleep duration below 7.7 h was associated with increased Body Mass Index (BMI). This includes children, teens, and adults.

Increased Junk Food Cravings

I don’t know about you, but when I’m sleepy, chocolate and sweets sound a lot more enticing than when I’m well rested. Why is this?

Researchers from UC Berkeley published a study showing that lack of sleep has a direct impact on brain regions that control decision-making and make us more inclined to crave fast food rather than healthy foods. Specifically, sleep deprivation increases the activity of deeper, primal brain regions that respond directly to rewards. As stated in Psychology Today, “the combination of increased primal drives and reduced executive function of the frontal lobes creates a double-whammy that makes people more likely to reach for potato chips and pizza than leafy greens or lean meats.”

Additionally, a study presented at the 2013 annual meeting for the Associated Professional Sleep Societies revealed that teens who slept for fewer than seven hours per night were more likely to consume fast food two or more times per week and less likely to eat healthful food such as fruits and vegetables.

Are you convinced yet on the need for sleep?

You have probably intuitively figured a majority of this out just through observing yourself. I know that I have Therefore, prioritize sleep. What does this mean?

– Establish a consistent sleep routine. Go to bed at the same time every night and wake up at the same time every morning. Your body functions best on a consistent schedule.

– Turn off you phone, ipad, computer, T.V., etc. The blue light tricks our brains into thinking that it is daytime Numerous studies suggest that blue light in the evening disrupts the brain’s natural sleep-wake cycles, which are crucial for optimal function of the body. I recommend disconnecting from these things 1-2 hours before bed. Read a hard copy book or magazine, listen to music or relax with your partner. Decompress from the day and allow your body to slow down and prepare for sleep.

Ahh wonderful sleep. This is the cheapest and most enjoyable weight loss solution you’ll find


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Danielle Crumble Smith

Danielle is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist currently living in Colorado though she is originally from TN and has lived in AK, CA, and NV. She and her husband, Colton, have two crazy dogs and are expecting twins in August. She received her degree in Nutrition, Dietetics and Food Science from California State University at Northridge and has since worked in a variety of roles as Dietitian over the past 7 years. Danielle has experience working in both clinical inpatient settings as well as outpatient. Her client/patient population has spanned from individuals with Food Allergies, Gastrointestinal Disorders, Eating Disorders, Autoimmune conditions, Diabetes, Kidney Disease, Sports Performance and Weight Management. In her free time, Danielle loves hiking with her husband, having FaceTime dates with family and doing anything outside!




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