I have not been sleeping enough for several weeks now. My 13-year-old dog is showing signs of senility, and nights have become difficult. She wakes up at about 3am, pacing and prodding, making it impossible to sleep – even with ear plugs. After trying one medication, she had a severe reaction and was not just awake early; she never slept at all. That was not exactly the anticipated drug response!
The problem is still not solved, but I am confident we can find a medication that works. What I learned (actually re-learned) during that tired day that followed was that not getting adequate sleep causes changes in brain chemistry. Not only was I physically exhausted, I was crabby and HUNGRY.
It turns out that increased hunger is not an unusual response to being tired. Research on appetite is taking a closer look at the effect of sleep deprivation. More studies will shed light on this topic, but it seems that there are measurable hormonal reasons for increased hunger in sleep deprived people. The hormone ghrelin, which is secreted in the gastrointestinal tract and stimulates hunger, increases with sleep deprivation in test subjects. Leptin is a hormone secreted by fat cells that suppresses hunger, and it is lower in those who lack sleep.
Interesting, and probably not all that surprising to many of you. I took note of it as I reached for a leftover piece of chocolate cheesecake and nibbled on some pretzels after eating my usual lunch. I simply felt off balance all day, a sensation that is reflected in predictable brain chemistry changes. Sleep rebalances more than appetite. It balances mood too – which, by the way, can only help when it comes to eating.
I know that getting enough sleep is not always possible. For those of you who just stay up when you know you should be ending your day, take note of your appetite. Do you see a connection between your appetite and your sleep patterns? It may be that getting to bed earlier is a weight loss tool you have overlooked. If nothing else, you will be more cheerful. The people in your life will thank you!