Yes, Sleep Deprivation Might Be Slowing Your Metabolism. Here’s What to Do About It Yes, Sleep Deprivation Might Be Slowing Your Metabolism. Here’s What to Do About It
If you’re reaching for snacks more than usual and you can’t quite work up the energy to go for a walk, a slowing metabolism... Yes, Sleep Deprivation Might Be Slowing Your Metabolism. Here’s What to Do About It

If you’re reaching for snacks more than usual and you can’t quite work up the energy to go for a walk, a slowing metabolism could be at fault. And if you’re tossing and turning at night? Well, those two things could be related. 

Sleep Awareness Month has passed, but it’s always a good time to consider whether you’re getting enough rest. Lack of sleep can not only make you feel groggy and slow down your reaction times but can also affect your body on a cellular level. If you experience chronic sleep loss, you may experience a slower metabolism and increased hunger. Luckily, there are things you can do about it. 

Read more: Can Tech Help You Sleep Better? This Is My 3-Week Quest for Answers

The connection between sleep and metabolism 

Young woman yawning at table with food in front of her. Young woman yawning at table with food in front of her.

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While losing a few hours of sleep once a week isn’t likely to affect your long-term metabolic rate, some research suggests that sleep and metabolism are interconnected. Losing sleep can affect your glucose metabolism, which affects how your body breaks down sugars and also changes the way your body metabolizes fats. 

What is metabolism?

As Harvard Health Publishing explains, metabolism refers to the process by which your body expends energy and burns calories around the clock. This essential operation helps your body do everything from breaking down food to breathing and repairing cells. While your metabolic rate is largely determined by genes, natural processes like aging can affect it, as well as variables such as sleep and level of activity. 

Does sleeping speed up metabolism?

When you’re asleep, your metabolism slows by about 15%. Conversely, if you don’t get enough sleep, your waking metabolism may slow. For most adults, the sweet spot is between 7 and 9 hours of sleep nightly to get adequate rest and keep your metabolism at its baseline. 

In addition to getting enough sleep, working out and eating well may give your metabolism a boost. Keep in mind that it’s common for metabolism rates to decline with age. 

Effects of sleep deprivation on your metabolism

Multiple systems in your body may be impacted by sleep deprivation. Research conducted at Penn State found that restricting sleep for 10 days could begin to affect the way your body metabolizes fats. Another study published in the Science Advances journal found that acute sleep loss results in genome-wide DNA changes, including metabolite levels. The National Library of Medicine says that losing sleep may alter your glucose metabolism and other hormones in your body that regulate how quickly you burn energy.

Other effects of sleep deprivation may include:

  • Appetite disregulation
  • Lower energy expenditure
  • Insulin resistance
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Impaired memory

It’s important to note that anxiety around sleep deprivation is common and can cause a vicious cycle of worsening sleep. Some may feel anxious that they aren’t getting enough sleep, and this anxiety can cause insomnia, furthering both the overall anxiety and sleep deprivation. Stress and anxiety can also impact metabolism. Instead of stressing about your sleep, work on relaxing around bedtime with quiet activities such as light stretching or yoga, reading, writing, meditation or a hot shower.  

Can too much sleep cause weight gain?

Since our metabolic rate slows when we sleep, and we’re not burning a lot of calories while we slumber, it is possible for too much sleep to cause weight gain. Increased activity helps you burn calories and may allow you to maintain a better baseline metabolism. 

7 tips for improving sleep quality

Peaceful young man sleeping in a bed Peaceful young man sleeping in a bed

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If you’re struggling with good sleep, making lifestyle changes is a good place to start. The following tips may be enough to encourage more rest and avoid negative changes to your metabolism. 

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Use your bed only for sleep

Try not to work, eat, read, watch TV or scroll on your phone from your bed. It’s important for your brain to only associate sleep and intimacy with your bed. This helps wind your brain down when it is bedtime. 

Get out of bed when you can’t sleep

Still having trouble falling asleep? Sometimes, tossing and turning and trying really hard to find some sleep isn’t the best solution. After getting into bed, give yourself 15 to 20 minutes of “sleep effort.” If you aren’t sleepy, get out of bed and do a quiet activity, such as reading. When you finally feel ready to fall asleep, get back in bed. 

Wake up and go to bed at the same time

Sleep consistency may help you get better sleep because it encourages a more reliable circadian rhythm. This process is a natural body clock that runs on a 24-hour cycle and tells you when to be alert and when to get sleepy. Irregular sleep times may disrupt your rhythm and confuse your body about when it’s supposed to get tired. 

Block out light

Darkness can also encourage your circadian rhythm to stay regular. Light sends the signal to your brain that it’s time to be alert, while darkness tells it to rest. Try a sleep mask or blackout curtains in your bedroom if you’re having a hard time getting to sleep. Looking at smartphones and other screens right before bed may also prohibit good sleep, so put them away an hour before you plan to sleep. 

Try natural sleep aids 

You may also benefit from natural sleep aids that can be purchased over the counter. This includes melatonin, which is a compound that naturally occurs in the brain when it’s time to sleep but can be supplemented in pill form. You may also want to try drinking herbal tea or using an essential oil diffuser to get relaxed before bedtime. 

Maintain good sleep hygiene

Keeping your bed sheets, pillows, and blankets clean may also promote good sleep. Make sure your bedding is comfortable, and your mattress is supportive, and make sure your nightstand is in order. These small changes can encourage your body to relax when you lie down to sleep. 

Avoid caffeine and alcohol before bed

Caffeine, alcohol and even big meals can mess with your ability to fall asleep quickly. Try to eliminate caffeine from your diet later in the day and limit food and alcohol for a few hours before bed. Spicy foods, even in small amounts, may also deprive you of good sleep by causing heartburn. Other foods like whole grains, fruits and nuts may be better foods to eat for sleep.

When to seek a doctor 

Not all sleep issues can be remedied with lifestyle changes. There are times when it could benefit you to seek a doctor’s opinion. Keep the following in mind:

Getting more sleep may not be a good weight loss plan. Often, the most effective way to lose weight is highly personalized and includes more than improving your sleep schedule. If you are struggling with weight loss, consider contacting a dietician or medical doctor. 

Sleep deprivation might be caused by a sleeping disorder. Do you struggle to sleep once in a while, or is the problem more chronic, lasting for weeks or months? If your loss of sleep is a long-term problem, it’s wise to get a medical opinion. 

Negative side effects may need to be treated professionally. If you’re not getting enough sleep, you could start to experience chronic fatigue, lack of concentration, or other symptoms that affect your everyday life. If you find that your regular sleep deprivation is affecting your ability to function day-to-day, talk to a doctor. 

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