This article is the fourth and final part of the series about hormonal imbalance and weight gain among people 40 years of age. Make sure to read the previous three articles before proceeding further:
Biology of Ageing
Why nutrition after 40 is more important than ever
Training to restore hormonal balance
The relationship between weight problems and sleep
Think for a moment: What are the most common complaints among people over 40?
I’ll give you a hint: One usually increases and the other decreases (or completely absent!).
I speak about weight gain (especially around the hips and waist area) and lack of quality sleep. But did you know that there is a relation between the two?
Numerous scientific studies on sleep duration and body mass index (BMI), found an inverse relationship between the two. A large percentage of people who regularly do not get enough sleep are overweight.
This relation is not accidental – long-term sleep deficiency disrupts the endocrine system, leading to hormonal imbalance. Some of the hormones affected by the lack of sleep take part in the regulation of appetite and metabolism of carbohydrates and fats.
The levels of this hormone fluctuate rhythmically during the day. Cortisol is highest in the morning and gradually decline, reaching its lowest value at bedtime. Chronic sleep deprivation violates this daily cycle and as a result, the cortisol levels remain elevated at the end of the day.
Over time, higher cortisol levels can lead to insulin resistance (the cells lose their sensitivity to insulin), obesity and type 2 diabetes. The problem is even greater in premenopausal and menopausal women since the combination of high levels of cortisol and lower oestrogen levels contribute to the fat gain in the body.
One of the hunger hormones – leptin – is secreted by fat cells to signal the brain that we have enough calories. The brain, in turn, decreases appetite and prevents overeating. There is a direct link between the leptin levels and the duration and quality of sleep. When you don’t get enough sleep the leptin levels in the blood decreases, which increases the appetite and calorie intake (even in the absence of higher physical activity). Taking into account the fact that many women over 40 have sleep problems of any kind – insomnia, difficulty falling asleep, waking during the night, etc. No wonder you have problems with the regulation of appetite and obesity.
More about leptin learn here.
Ghrelin is another hunger hormone with opposite action of leptin. It is secreted by the stomach and stimulates appetite. Low sleep duration is associated with increased release of ghrelin – and hence with uncontrollable cravings, particularly for sweet foods (read more on this topic in the article: “Problems with weight loss: Hunger for sweet”). Not to mention that declining levels of oestrogen during premenopausal also “tickle” your appetite for carb foods!
The carbohydrates we eat are broken down in the small intestine to the smaller particles – glucose molecules that are
used as fuel for the brain and muscles. Problems occur when you take too much food and too much blood glucose circulates in the body.
Then with the help of insulin, the excess is stored as fat. Sleep deprivation leads to a reduced sensitivity of cells to the insulin. The glucose circulates in the blood for longer and longer periods of time, which means that you are a pre-diabetic state.
What have we learned so far?
The combination of chronic sleep deprivation, excessive consumption of carbohydrates and decreased levels of oestrogen is detrimental to your body. You must pay more attention to meal plans (less processed foods, junk foods, etc.) and include some resistance training (more muscle, less fat, better bone health). You would need to create good sleep habits if you want long-term improvement and better quality of life.
Good sleep hygiene
Go to bed on time.
Wake up early.
Go to bed and wake up at about the same time.
Darken the room where you sleep.
Avoid alcohol before bedtime
Avoid caffeine and other stimulants in the second half of the day.