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Why Sleepless Nights & Stress may lead to Weight Gain

By Julie Mansfield | 24th Jan, 2018

Why do I sometimes feel compelled to eat that bit of cake or bar of chocolate although I know I am going to regret it a few minutes later?

Is it just greed – or is something else going on?

Although self-control is important, there is mounting evidence that stress plays a significant part in weight gain.

Chronic stress disrupts our sleep and our blood sugar levels. This leads to increased hunger and comfort eating.

And that then leads to further disrupted sleep, even higher levels of stress and even more disrupted blood sugars. In time, this can lead not only to unhealthy levels of body fat, but also to type-2 diabetes.

Our blood sugar levels rise when we eat and, in a healthy person, they quickly return to normal.

But when stressed, blood sugar levels can take approximately three hours to return to normal – some six times longer than on a previous, stress-free day.

The reason this happens is that when you are stressed, your body goes into “fight or flight” mode.

Your body thinks it is under attack and releases glucose into your blood to provide energy for your muscles.

But if you don’t need that energy to run away from danger, then your pancreas will pump out insulin to bring those blood sugar levels back down again.

These rising levels of insulin and falling blood sugars will make you hungry – which is why you crave sugary carbs when you are stressed.

The same sort of thing happens when you have a bad night’s sleep.

A recent study carried out by researchers found that if you sleep-deprived people they would consume, on average, an extra 385kcal per day, which is equivalent to the calories in a large muffin.

Children also get the munchies when they haven’t had enough sleep.

So how can you reduce daily stress?

Breathing Stress Away

Here’s a breathing technique, recommended by NHS Choices, which you may find effective. You will get the most benefit if you make it part of your daily routine.

You can do it standing, sitting or lying – whatever is the most relaxing.

  • Start by breathing in as deeply as you can, through your nose, without forcing it, to a count of five
  • Then, gently exhale, through your mouth, to a count of five
  • Keep breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth – steadily
  • Keep doing this for three to five minutes


NHS Choices provides some useful tips on how to get a good nights sleep.

You could also try some well established “stress-busting” techniques – such as exercising, gardening, mindfulness or Pilates.