7 Ways sleep can affect your metabolism

It’s common knowledge that how you sleep at night affects how you feel in the morning. A good night’s sleep can mean you wake up feeling energised and ready to take on the day. On the flip side, a poor night’s sleep means you’re irritable and sluggish due to a lack of rest.

However, sleep can affect more than just your mood and energy levels. There are also links between sleep and appetite – and more specifically, metabolism.

What is metabolism?

You’ve probably heard people saying they have fast or slow metabolisms, but what does the word actually mean?

Your metabolism is a complex set of chemical processes through which your body breaks down food into energy. It then uses this energy to fuel and repair your body.

For your body to function, it requires energy in the form of kilojoules. It gets these kilojoules from the food and drinks that you consume.

Your body burns this energy so you can perform daily activities – and the more active you are, the more energy you burn, so the more you metabolism.

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There are two steps to the metabolic process: catabolism and anabolism.

Catabolism is when your body breaks down food and drinks into simpler forms. This results in the release of energy. Then anabolism is when your body takes that released energy and uses it for bodily functions, such as cell repair and growth [1].

A lot of things can affect the rate at which your body metabolises food, from genetics to meal size. But one significant factor that affects your metabolism is sleep.

7 Ways sleep affects your metabolism

Sleep is an essential aspect of your body’s functions, since it allows your body to rest and repair itself. It also influences your body’s metabolism in several ways.

#1 – Affected hypothalamus

For children and adolescents, sleep is incredibly important. Epidemiologic studies have revealed a link between sleep deprivation and excess body weight – a phenomenon particularly pronounced in children. Insufficient sleep in youths may have adverse effects on the hypothalamus, which controls your appetite and energy use [2].

#2 – Ghrelin and leptin levels

Ghrelin and leptin are two hormones that your body produces at nighttime. Ghrelin tells your body when to start eating, while leptin tells your body to stop eating. Sleep debt is associated with excess ghrelin and lack of leptin – meaning you’ll feel more hungry and slower to feel full [3].

#3 – Impeded digestion

Sleep deprivation can affect your “gut biome” – the bacteria in your digestive system that digest food and control metabolism. Poor or disturbed sleep can cause changes in your stomach’s microbial community structure. This affects the way your body digests and metabolises food [4].

#4 – Energy levels

Getting quality sleep means getting more slow-wave or deep sleep, during which your body repairs itself and creates ATP – your body’s energy molecule.

If you sleep well, you’ll feel more refreshed when you wake up, which means you’re more likely to be active during the day [5]. And activity influences your metabolism.

Conversely, if you sleep poorly, you’ll have less energy and therefore have a slower metabolism.

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#5 – Endocannabinoid levels

Some research has shown that short sleep duration affects your body in a similar way to the activation of your endocannabinoid (eCB) system. The eCB system plays a key role in your brain’s regulation of appetite since it affects your motivation and reward circuits.

For people who were sleep-deprived, they have higher, longer-lasting eCB levels versus people who’d had good sleep. Those sleep-deprived people also reported feeling more hungry and less able to resist food [6].

#6 – Energy conversion

Sleep deprivation may affect your body’s ability to convert food and fat into energy. Research has shown that sleeping less diminishes your ability to break down fat into energy – meaning your body stores it instead of consuming it. This is especially true if you don’t get rest on a consistent basis [7].

#7 – Glucose absorption

Shortened sleeping times may impair the way your body metabolizes glucose, which increases your risk of type 2 diabetes. It also results in weight gain, which can increase your resistance to insulin. Both affect the way your body absorbs and processes glucose [8].

Ways to improve sleep hygiene

Ways to improve sleep hygiene

Fortunately, there are ways you can improve your sleep habits and hygiene so that you snooze better throughout the night. They’re not foolproof, but they’ll go a long way to ensuring you’re getting enough rest.

#1 – Regulate your circadian rhythm

Your circadian rhythm is a body process that regulates how your body works throughout the day. It “notifies” your body of when to wake up and when to wind down. The cycle will vary throughout your early life stages, but will stabilize as you get older.

By keeping your circadian rhythm consistent, you’ll also keep your sleep consistent. It means you’ll fall asleep and wake up easier, and feel more rested in the mornings.

#2 – Exercise regularly

Physical activity doesn’t just help you lose weight – it can also improve your quality of sleep. You burn more energy and therefore feel more tired later on in the day. Exercise also increases the amount of “deep sleep” you get, which means your body gets more quality rest [9]. 

#3 – Make yourself comfortable

Who can sleep if it’s hot or bright? Invest in your sleep accessories such as bedsheets, nightlights, electric fans or air-conditioners, and sleepwear. Make sure your room is sufficiently dark so it triggers your circadian rhythm to cue your body to sleep. And get comfy in bed – you won’t sleep well otherwise.

Good sleep is key to a healthy metabolism

Getting a good night’s sleep helps boost your metabolism in several ways, from lowering the production of ghrelin to increasing your body’s energy.

And a higher metabolic rate can translate to better personal health and well-being. To maintain a healthy metabolic process in your body, make sure to get quality sleep on a consistent basis – and at reasonable hours, too!

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[1] https://health.clevelandclinic.org/anabolism-vs-catabolism/
[2] https://www.cdc.gov/sleep/about_sleep/chronic_disease.html
[3] https://www.webmd.com/sleep-disorders/features/lack-of-sleep-weight-gain
[4] https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyt.2018.00669/full
[5] https://www.health.harvard.edu/healthbeat/how-sleep-boosts-your-energy
[6] https://www.nih.gov/news-events/nih-research-matters/molecular-ties-between-lack-sleep-weight-gain
[7] https://thesleepdoctor.com/physical-health/sleep-and-weight-loss/
[8] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1991337/
[9] https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/exercising-for-better-sleep

Photograph: Andrea Piacquadio/Pexels
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