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What's at Risk When You Don't Get Enough Sleep?

by Tim McComsey, RD, CPT at TRYM Fitness

Do you love something so much you can’t get enough of it? I know I do—sleep! Sleep is a hot topic constantly being researched, and rightly so. Sleep affects our lives on a daily basis and a lack of it could put us at risk of obesity and diabetes. If this isn’t reason enough to encourage you to get more sleep, read on!

Sleep deficiency can put you at risk by:what's_at_risk_when_you_don't_get_enough_sleep_pic

  1. Decreasing the amount of energy you burn in 24 hours
  2. Increasing your appetite
  3. Affecting how your body uses glucose (sugar/carbs) and secretes insulin
  4. Heightens stress hormone levels, which leads to belly fat (cortisol)
  5. Causes irritability

I know for a fact this list will sound scary to the majority of readers. Let’s dive a little more into the science and see why inadequate sleep is so dangerous:


A stress hormone that acts as a stimulus to break down muscle in order to raise blood sugar. It is associated with obesity, high blood sugar, and lowered immunity. Two to three restless nights could result in greater intake of high carb-foods, muscle breakdown, and a large spike in insulin to cope with excess blood sugar and insulin resistance. You may experience shakiness and tiredness which could result in weight gain.


This hormone is secreted from the fat tissue itself. It is now known that fat tissue is a powerful hormone-releasing organ that influences diet and activity behaviors. Basically, it tells our bodies, “You have enough energy. Stop eating and burn more calories.” The more fat we have, the more leptin is secreted. But if we don’t get enough sleep, leptin levels decrease and our bodies think energy levels are low. This causes an increase in appetite and yes, an increase in weight could be a result.


Ghrelin tells our bodies, “You’re not getting enough energy; eat more and move less!” A hormone with the opposite effect of leptin, it increases the appeal of high calorie foods. This can be troublesome with 2–3 days of inadequate sleep. In conjunction with lowered levels of leptin, our bodies will want more food but won’t have the energy to exercise, leading to weight gain.


Most of us don’t think about Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT). This is the energy expended for any movement we do that is not sleeping, eating, or planned exercise. If low leptin and high ghrelin levels decrease our energy levels, NEAT is also affected and the result can be more detrimental than skipping the gym. If you are lacking sleep for a few days are you going to want to go on an afternoon walk or play with your dog? Therefore even the calories burned from NEAT are reduced. As a result, weight gain is possible.

Now you know why I am concerned with my sleep! I used to love waking up early, listening to music, and training my 5am TRYM Fitness clients. My enthusiasm has been slacking and I know the culprit. Lack of adequate sleep!

I am currently averaging about six hours of sleep a night, when I used to get eight, and I’m astonished to find more than 30 percent of adults sleep less than six hours per night. These people are the ones with the highest percentage of related problems. Those who slept more than eight hours a night didn’t have significant issues.

The answer to getting more sleep isn’t quite easy. It’s nearly impossible to find more hours in the day amongst all the things we need to get done. We’re all busy and it’s too easy to use that as an excuse. I thought my evenings after work were crazy busy, only to find out that shutting off my computer and cell phone really does add quality time in my day to prepare for sleep. Facebook and fantasy football can wait til tomorrow! If there are things you need to get done before sleep, I would recommend finishing them all an hour before bedtime. In the next hour there are a few things you can do to prep for sleep:man_playing_sleep_pic

  1. Turn off electronics
  2. Dim the lights
  3. Take a warm bath or shower
  4. Meditate or pray
  5. Listen to music
  6. Or watch a television show if it TRULY relaxes you

Make it your goal to get 6–8 hours of sleep each night for the next week. See how you feel and how much more productive you are during the waking hours! And best of all, let your hormones work for you and not against!

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