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Sleep, Circadian Rhythms, Eating and Weight

  • Eating

It’s ironic that clients often don’t want to discuss their sleep habits but focus obsessively on their eating habits. In truth, sleep may be a substantial determinant of what and how much we eat, and disruption of our circadian rhythms may have a significant effect on what we weigh. Here’s what science has to say on these subjects.

According to “Sleep Longer, Eat Less, Maintain a Healthier Weight” by Mugdha Thakur, MD (Duke Medicine Newsletter, 5/2008, p. 7), “Sleep is a modifiable risk factor in the link between obesity and cardiometabolic diseases…” and “Reduced sleep affects the regulation of appetite hormones such as ghrelin, which increase appetite, and leptin, which decreases appetite.” It is also thought to increase cortisol (a stress hormone) release, which increases eating behavior. Consider the paradigm above: By sleeping less, you’re putting yourself at risk of generating increased stress and appetite. This combination is the perfect storm for mindless and emotional eating.

Speaking of stress, “Why fat piles on when the body’s daily cycles are in disarray” (Nature, 4/6/2018,, accessed 4/20/18) tells us that “Changes in the patterns of hormone production might cause weight gain when circadian rhythms are disrupted,” because “Hormones called glucocorticoids stimulate the production of mature fat cells. In humans, glucocorticoid levels naturally rise in the morning and fall in the evening, but stress can also elevate them.” The article goes on to say that these high levels “at unusual times of day could contribute to weight gain. This could help to explain why stress and disrupted sleep cycles are linked to rising weight.”

If you are haphazard about your sleep patterns, why is that? It’s one thing if you have a newborn baby who awakens frequently or if you work two or three jobs which cut into your snooze time. It’s another if you’re lax about limiting screen time before bed (either TV or computer) and think sleeping is a waste of time when you could be getting so much done. Because so many dysregulated eaters are perfectionists, I wonder how many of you feel a need to cross every item off your to-do list before allowing yourself to crawl into bed. I also wonder how many of you value productive time more than time spent recharging your body, another trait of dysregulated eaters.

Plain and simple, enjoying a good night’s sleep is part of self-care. If you’re not getting enough zzz’s, you may be setting yourself up for high stress and increased appetite. Why would you want to do that to someone you love?



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