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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

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Are your sleeping habits affecting your waistline?
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by Leah Whigham

We all hear plenty about how diet and lack of physical activity can contribute to obesity, but did you know that the amount of sleep you get each night could be just as important? Controlled studies with human volunteers have shown that lack of adequate sleep decreases leptin, a hormone that makes you feel full, while it has the opposite effect on ghrelin, a hormone the promotes hunger.

Not surprisingly, sleep loss increases hunger and food intake. In addition, not going to bed early enough has been found to reduce insulin sensitivity, a condition that increases the risk for diabetes. Sleep deprivation also increases the stress hormone cortisol and promotes inflammation.

If this isn't enough reason to make sure to get adequate sleep, keep in mind that sleep deprivation decreases alertness, memory and cognition. Lack of adequate sleep also adds stress to interpersonal relationships and increases the risk of work-related injury and having an accident while driving.

Most adults need 7.5 to 9 hours of sleep each day. A good rule of thumb to determine how much sleep you need is to see how long you sleep at night (on a night when you are not already sleep deprived) without setting an alarm to wake you in the morning.

It is also important to ensure that you have good "sleep hygiene" - habits that help ensure restful, quality sleep, and daytime alertness.  Here are some tips:

  • Get up and go to bed at the same time every day, even on the weekends.
  • Develop relaxing sleep rituals so your body has cues as to when to slow down and fall asleep.
  • Don't expose yourself to bright light while trying to fall asleep (light signals your brain to be awake).
  • Use your bed for sleeping - not watching TV, working, eating, etc. - so that when you go to bed your body knows it is time to sleep.
  • Avoid caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol for 4-6 hours before bedtime. 
  • Avoid going to bed feeling hungry or too full.
  • Be physically active every day to improve both your ability to fall asleep promptly and your sleep quality. But avoid exercising right before going to bed.
  • If you lie in bed for more than about 20 minutes and cannot sleep, get up and do something non-stimulating or relaxing.
  • If you have a hard time "shutting your brain off" when you go to bed, engage in planning and make lists for the next day before attempting to sleep.  Keep paper and pencil by the bed in case you need to write down any last-minute thoughts as you try to drift off to sleep.

In our busy lives, we sometimes have to make sleep more of a priority. If you don't currently get enough sleep, evaluate how you spend your time. For the sake of your health, you may need to trim some other activities (for example, staying up late with friends, watching TV) so that you get adequate sleep.

If you are sleep deprived because of family or other obligations (such as children who don't sleep through the night or elderly family members who need attention at night), call on the help of friends and family to give you a break once in awhile so you can get your much-needed rest. Not only will it help your mood during the day, it is important for your health!

Sweet Dreams!


Last Modified: 8/13/2016
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