Sleep Away Excess Pounds

The kind of diet you dream about

by Christiane Northrup, M.D.


“Inflammation triggers the body to hold onto excess weight and water—what I call stress pounds.”

Surveys done by the National Sleep Foundation over the last 10 years show that most women in the United States don’t get enough sleep. This isn’t surprising since many women have hectic schedules and need to sacrifice something in order to “do it all.” It’s long been known that sleep affects your hormones, mood, and cognitive skills. But now, researchers are learning there’s a connection between sleep and your ability to stay trim.

Dr. Northrup, a woman who’s not ashamed to sleep when she’s tired, says, “Sleep is an important part of the rest and restore cycle. Women go all day from job to home to various other demands, often putting excess stress on the adrenal system to keep going. This triggers the fight-or-flight mechanism, pumping adrenaline into the system and raising cortisol levels, which results in inflammation throughout the body. Inflammation is not only the cause of most degenerative diseases, it triggers the body to hold onto excess weight and water—what I call stress pounds.”

According to Michael Breus, Ph.D., a faculty member of the Atlanta School of Sleep Medicine and director of The Sleep Disorders Centers of Southeastern Lung Care in Atlanta, two hormones that help regulate appetite, leptin and gherlin, are affected when you don’t get enough sleep. Leptin signals the body that you are full, whereas gherlin tells the body you’re hungry. When you don’t get enough sleep, your leptin levels drop and gherlin levels rise. This sabotages your weight in two ways: The gherlin signals the body that you need sustenance, and the low levels of leptin keep you from feeling satisfied.

Dr. Northrup adds, “I think most women have experienced this imbalance of leptin and gherlin without knowing the science behind what’s happening. It plays out like this: When you don’t get enough rest, you’re more likely to drink caffeinated beverages and eat sugary foods to give you energy to help you keep going. This revs up the stress hormones and packs on the calories.”

“Adults aren’t the only ones who can benefit from more sleep,” Dr. Northrup also notes. “A study was done on children, weight gain, and sleep. Researchers in Montreal found that when young children get 10 hours of sleep or more, only 10 to 15 percent of them are likely to be overweight. Teens typically need much more sleep than they get, and getting enough sleep will help them maintain a healthy weight and, most likely, experience a better overall sense of well being.” The hormones (leptin and gherlin) that contribute to weight gain and an increase in appetite in adults are the same ones that cause weight gain in children.

Sleep has significant other benefits for adults and children. For adults, a new study just released in June 2009 shows that a good night’s sleep helps you maintain a healthy blood pressure. “Of course this makes perfect sense,” comments Dr. Northrup. “The chronic inflammation I spoke of earlier causes the arteries to narrow—and even constrict—which results in higher blood pressure. Getting enough sleep is essential for women with heart disease.”

Children who are plagued by chronic headaches and digestive problems will also see an improvement when they get enough sleep. And it’s such a simple remedy, not to mention free.

“My advice is always aim for a good eight hours of rest if you’re an adult and ten to twelve hours for children and teens. I know this isn’t always possible, but I can promise you that you’ll not only feel better, you may shed a few pounds. I know because whenever I’ve been on the road and don’t get enough sleep, I gain weight no matter what I eat. When I get home, I make sure that I don’t schedule anything for a couple of days so I can catch up on my sleep—and sleep those excess pounds away! It works like a charm. When I give myself the opportunity to sleep until I wake up (sometimes 12 hours or more) I often lose three pounds overnight.”

So help yourself and your children by getting a good night’s sleep. Your heart, head, and hips will thank you.

Last Updated: July 16, 2009

Christiane Northrup, M.D.

Christiane Northrup, M.D., is a visionary pioneer and a leading authority in the field of women’s health and wellness. Recognizing the unity of body, mind, and spirit, she empowers women to trust their inner wisdom, their connection with Source, and their ability to truly flourish.


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  1. Pat LaMarsh
    14 years ago

    I’ve noticed that in my life, whenever I am going through an emotional upheaval and think someone else is causing my problem, if I remember to follow the thread backwards it ends up to be about me not loving and accepting myself. That is always the true root of the unhappiness.

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