#Health & Fitness

Hormones and Sleep – The Hidden Weight Gain Connection

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Hormones and Sleep – The Hidden Weight Gain Connection

We all get the midnight munchies–but that late-night snack may be putting on unwanted pounds.


Recently, Kelly Osbourne was in the news telling her fans that she eats half of an apple each night before bed. Her reasoning is that her body works all night long to burn the calories, which then wakes her up with a strong metabolism the next day. She further recommends that anyone trying to lose weight should follow the same procedure.

The problem with her reasoning? It’s totally false. It’s much more likely that her kick-butt Dancing with the Stars workouts are to credit for her newly svelte shape and that, if anything, her half-apple before bed is slightly hindering her progress. Why? Because, in layman’s terms, it’s best to go to bed on an empty stomach, and it’s definitely best to have very few carbs in the evening hours as possible.

To understand why, we’ll need to take a closer look at our hormones.

Hormones have a nasty reputation these days—talk about them at a dinner party and watch all of the men clear the room. Relax guys, hormones are not just for pre-menopausal women. In fact, they’re the major players in determining how hot, or flabby, we look. But for brevity’s sake, we’re only going to take a look at two hormones for the time being, ghrelin, and leptin.

You’ve probably heard of leptin; it’s all the buzz lately. Together with its partner ghrelin, these two hormones ebb and flow before and after meals, and they’ve earned the nickname “the hunger hormones” because of it. When functioning properly, ghrelin and leptin peak before meals, signaling hunger, and decline after you’ve eaten, simulating fullness. These hormones unfortunately can go way out of whack because of the chemicals and preservatives we ingest in most of our packaged food, but that’s another topic entirely (read: eat less and healthier, work out often and harder).

How are ghrelin and leptin connected with sleep? Simply put, high ghrelin levels are linked with a good night’s sleep. In fact, it is imperative to have high ghrelin levels if you want to reach stages three and four of sleep, which is where all the magic happens—dreaming, muscle repair, stress release. If you have low ghrelin because you ate just before bed? Less restful sleep. It’s the less restful sleep that actually is the cause for your crazy carb cravings.

Less restful sleep has a direct impact on your food cravings, specifically carbohydrates. Studies have repeatedly shown that getting less than six hours of sleep for as little as three nights in a row can increase carbohydrate consumption 45 percent. That’s huge, and will make you huge too if you aren’t careful.

Thankfully, there’s a really simple trick to fix all of this, and part of it you’ve already heard hundreds of times. Firstly, don’t eat after 9:00 p.m. Just don’t do it. It’s called “breakfast” in the morning because you are breaking the food fast that you underwent during sleep. Don’t eat right before bed and risk having undigested food in your stomach all night.

The second part? If you’re having a snack before 9:00 p.m., remove carbohydrates all together. A lack of carbs is what makes ghrelin levels peak. No carbs before bed will give you a really high ghrelin level so that you can eat heartily in the morning and not have tempting carbohydrate cravings all day.

These easy tricks along with a regular routine of exercise will surely have you at your goal weight in no time. Happy sleeping!