Sleep and hunger hormones

By Nourished Routes on 12th May 2021

Sleep is one of the main factors experts recommend we focus on for a healthier lifestyle, following closely behind diet and exercise. Sleep plays a major role in our overall health, providing us with energy, giving us time to digest our food, support our immune system, recover from illness or strenuous exercise, and much more. But did you know your sleep habits may be playing an even bigger role in how much – and what – you eat than you thought?

Research suggests adults need between seven and nine hours of sleep per night, while the average reported number of hours spent sleeping per night is just six and a half. Sufficient sleep is important in weight management and the prevention of metabolic diseases, such as insulin resistance and diabetes. Both too little and too much sleep can impact the expression of our hunger-regulating hormones and can lead us to eat more during the day than we would if we got consistently sufficient sleep.

Sleep and Ghrelin
Ghrelin is the hormone that increases our desire to take in food. Ghrelin in the blood is shown to be elevated before meals when hungry, and return to lower levels after eating. Numerous sleep deprivation studies have shown that ghrelin increases when we do not get enough sleep. This rise leads to an increased appetite, and an especially strong appetite for carbohydrate-rich foods. Studies have also found that sleep deprivation leads to an average intake of 250 calories more per day than when one gets sufficient sleep, and chronic sleep deprivation could lead to weight gain over time.

Sleep and Glucose Response
Some research also shows that sleep increases insulin resistance, leading to increased blood glucose levels throughout the day. There are a number of ways in which sleep affects our glucose response. The best explanation for this is that cortisol, the stress hormone, is increased when we do not get enough sleep. This increase in cortisol leads to an increase in glucose. Poor sleep has long been associated with risk for type 2 diabetes, meaning poor sleep can contribute to our risk for developing chronic diseases.

Sleep and Leptin
Leptin causes the opposite effect of ghrelin – it suppresses appetite and is elevated after we eat a meal or snack. Short sleep duration, especially over time, leads to a decrease in leptin. Combined with increased ghrelin making us feel hungry and the decrease in leptin, which is preventing us from feeling full, we can see how insufficient sleep can lead to increased calorie intake, weight gain, and the risk for metabolic disease. Research also indicates a correlation between increased ghrelin, decreased leptin, and increased BMI; showing us that these connections are real and may play a role in American’s waistlines.

May 6-12 is National Nurses Week, which is part of why this topic is so important. Due to stress on the job, working long hours, and inadequate sleep, diet, and exercise habits, many of our nurses face ill health and experience the same diseases they help their patients manage. On average, an American nurse sleeps 5.5 hours per night. The influence of such little sleep on ghrelin and leptin has been extensively researched, and we know that this is not enough sleep to keep these hormones balanced. Research suggests as many as 50% of nurses are overweight or obese, and it is easy to see why – too little sleep, long and grueling working conditions, and a work environment that may not be conducive to healthy eating, physical activity, and rest poses a health risk to our nurses. We appreciate our nurses who work long, difficult, and physically and mentally challenging shifts to help us stay healthy and safe. They deserve the same benefits of adequate sleep, along with other health-promoting behaviors like healthy eating and time for physical activity.

Improper sleep – whether too little or too much – impacts more than just our energy levels and coffee consumption during the day. Ghrelin, the hormone that increases appetite, and leptin, the hormone that suppresses it are impacted by our sleep. There is strong evidence to suggest that too little sleep leads to excess calorie consumption and weight gain, as well as an increased risk for metabolic diseases, particularly type 2 diabetes. Working on making good sleep a habit by sticking to a sleep schedule, prioritizing sleep and health, and sleeping in a comfortable environment without electronics can help keep our hormones in balance and prevent unwanted weight gain.

Nourished Routes works with women who are struggling with a variety of health concerns, including confusion and a feeling of being overwhelmed about what to eat and how to eat for their condition, a lack of energy, gut discomfort, and food allergies and intolerances.

We help our clients to implement a highly personalized whole foods nutrition approach so that they can enjoy food again and achieve a sense of empowerment and food freedom while feeling nourished and ultimately live their best lives.

Schedule a kick off call with us today!


The Link Between Sleep and Weight Gain – Research Shows Poor Sleep Quality Raises Obesity and Chronic Disease Risk. Today’s Dietitian. (n.d.).

Taheri, S., Lin, L., Austin, D., Young, T., & Mignot, E. (2004, December). Short sleep duration is associated with reduced leptin, elevated ghrelin, and increased body mass index. PLoS medicine.

Ross A, Bevans M, Brooks AT, Gibbons S, Wallen GR. Nurses and Health-Promoting Behaviors: Knowledge May Not Translate Into Self-Care. AORN J. 2017;105(3):267-275. doi:10.1016/j.aorn.2016.12.018



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