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Posted on 02-25-2016

RWM Monthly Tips for Women by Barb Goshorn BSN RN MSACN “The Nurse Nutritionist”

Do Sleep and Stress Contribute to Weight Gain?

You bet they do! The trouble with stress is that it seeps into every area of your life- affecting your sleep, mood, and the size of your waistline.  The interaction between these factors was documented in a recent study from the International Journal of Obesity.  The researchers expected to find a correlation with stress and weight gain but were astonished to see how lack of sleep was an important predictor in the ability to lose weight (and successfully keep it off).

Studies done by researchers from Columbia University identified stress and sleep deprivation as culprits in weight gain.  They showed that when people are sleep deprived (less than 4 hours of sleep for 6 nights), they ate an average of 329 more calories a day then when they were rested (8 hours a night for 6 nights).  They also found that the increase in calories was usually in the form of simple carbohydrates, sweets, and fast food.

Why do sleep deprivation and stress make you fat?  It appears as if hormones are responsible.  It is thought that lack of sleep and disruptions in your sleep cycles stimulates the hormone ghrelin and ghrelin stimulates your appetite. Conversely levels of leptin go down.  Leptin is the hormone that signals you are full or satisfied. Therefore when you are stressed and tired you are both hungrier and less satisfied!

Another hormone involved in stress and lack of sleep is cortisol the “stress” hormone.  Cortisol controls blood pressure, blood sugar, and fat and sugar metabolism for fast energy. The end results of which leads to elevations in blood pressure, blood sugar, and weight gain.  Cortisol also makes us hungry.  If our bodies perceive physical or psychological stress, cortisol levels rise. Unfortunately we have so much stress (and lack of sleep) in our lives today; many of us have chronically elevated cortisol levels.  This leads to elevated blood pressure, sugar levels (diabetes), and weight gain.  Studies have shown that weight gain from cortisol is deposited in the belly not the hips or backside.  We call this inflammatory fat because it elevates dangerous inflammatory levels and is shown to increase cardiovascular disease including heart attacks and strokes.

Incorporating chiropractic, massage, acupuncture, meditation, exercise, and yoga are all strategies that have been shown to decrease stress and improve sleep. Remember stress will always be with you but thankfully you can learn strategies to keep it to a more reasonable level.

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