You may have noticed a few things going downhill over the past few years, such as your ability to keep off unwanted weight and energy. Once, you would have been told that you're just "getting old" and nothing can be done, but as we know more about antiaging and longevity, this is no longer the universal view. While the most attention-grabbing antiaging remedies are more along the lines of exotic herbs and bioidentical hormones, poor sleep and inadequate sleep hygiene can contribute significantly to weight gain and other issues such as fatigue.
Hormones, Sleep and Weight Gain
Like countless other biological processes, the cycle of sleeping and waking is controlled by hormones. Melatonin promotes sleep, and cortisol wakes us up in the morning. This is not one-sided, however, as poor sleep habits can raise cortisol and lower melatonin. Several consecutive nights of sleep deprivation (four hours a night) has been shown in one study to increase afternoon and evening levels of cortisol, and to delay sleep by 1.5 hours. The rate of decrease in free cortisol was six times slower in sleep deprived volunteers, compared to those who were sleeping enough.
How does cortisol promote weight gain? There are several ways in which this happens. First, cortisol increases appetite, especially for energy-dense (high sugar, high fat) foods. This is why emotional eating is a common reaction to stress. Cortisol also stimulates the growth of visceral fat, which sits around our abdominal organs and is the most harmful form of body fat. Finally, it breaks down proteins in tissue such as that in the muscles, which not only means poorer strength and a more aged appearance, but less energy-consuming tissue too.
Sleep-promoting melatonin, on the other hand, may promote weight control. Multiple animal studies have shown that melatonin supplementation could reduce body fat, especially abdominal fat, and regulate insulin levels and food intake. These effects have not been tested in human volunteers yet. Preclinical and early human trials have found that melatonin may have other antiaging effects too, such as increasing bone density and protecting the brain.
High cortisol production can also promote weight gain by affecting other hormones. Both cortisol and DHEA, the precursor to our sex hormones, are made from the same hormone, known as pregnenolone. If we produce more cortisol, this pathway "steals" from the DHEA/sex hormone pathway. Low sex hormone levels lead to problems such as weight gain, seen in menopausal women. Research has shown some effect of hormone replacement therapy against menopausal weight gain, including abdominal fat.
The First Step to Dealing with Weight Gain
One of the first things you should do when you notice the weight creeping on is assess your sleep hygiene. Cortisol and melatonin release is affected by our sleeping habits and emotional state, as seen in the above research. A bedtime no later than 10:00pm is ideal, allowing cortisol to fall naturally and melatonin to rise. As cortisol is a stress hormone, try to avoid stressful activity or media in the 1-2 hours before bed. For melatonin, avoid the "blue" light from electronic devices in this time. Light suppresses melatonin, and we are more sensitive to blue light. If you want to read something, read a paper book (they smell better!). Remember, if you use your phone as an alarm clock, you can set it at any time of the day; it doesn't have to be right before bed.
Is weight gain or loss of energy a problem for you? Message me here or on my Facebook page to book a consultation.