• Martha Lewis

The weight loss, cortisol, sleep connection

Have you ever noticed you’re hungrier and crave unhealthy foods when you don’t get enough sleep?

I noticed this when I was managing the supplement department in a health food store. Every quarter I had to do inventory and be at work at 4am. I would reward myself with a cinnamon roll. I never craved this indulgence any time else. Even though it made me feel awful, I did it every time!

If you’re dreaming of spring break like I am, you may realize you’ll be wearing a bathing suit for the first time in 6 months and worried about your winter weight gain. Here’s how sleep deprivation and elevated cortisol sabotage your six pack abs goal.

Sleep deprivation and hunger

You probably already know this truth: sleep deprivation can cause weight gain.

I want to tell you why so hopefully you can resist your junk food cravings after a poor night’s sleep. And if you’re not sleeping well most nights, addressing your sleep will also help you eat less and lose weight effortlessly.

Two hormones control hunger: ghrelin and leptin. Ghrelin tells your body that you’re hungry. Leptin signals when you’re full. When you sleep 4 or 5 hours a night, studies show that you have increased levels of ghrelin, even if you do the same amount of activity and eat the same foods. So you feel hungrier than i would if you slept 8 hours!

One experiment showed that people ate 300 calories more a day when they slept 4 ½ hours a night compared to others who got 8 hours of sleep.

Sleep deprivation and cortisol

When you don’t sleep enough, your body releases cortisol. When cortisol is elevated, it tells your liver to release its stored glucose. But it also limits insulin. So your blood sugar levels increase, causing blood sugar dysregulation and insulin resistance.

The short story: cortisol tells your body to store fat.

A sure sign of elevated cortisol is belly fat that you can’t get rid of no matter how many crunches you do.

Cortisol is also sabotaging your sleep. Many of my clients have high cortisol at bedtime (if they have trouble falling asleep) and/or during the night (if they’re waking up and having a hard time falling back asleep).

Finding out why your body is releasing cortisol at night is the key to overcoming your insomnia. The most common reasons are:

  • A pathogen in your gut

  • Low blood sugar

  • A congested liver

  • Food sensitivities

The lab tests I run for my clients show which of these things are keeping them awake at night.

Cortisol and your thyroid

Too much cortisol affects your thyroid, too.

Common symptoms of hypothyroidism are:

  • Fatigue

  • Inability to lose weight

  • Low body temperature

  • Cold hands and feet

  • Dry skin

  • Thin eyebrows

Most of the time, hypothyroidism doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with the thyroid. Those same symptoms can be caused by mineral imbalance, iodine deficiency or poor conversion of T4 to the usable form of T3 because of an unhealthy gut or a congested liver.

Elevated cortisol can make the thyroid more inactive. Instead of converting T4 to T3, it elevates reverse T3 which can’t be used. And so you have a sluggish metabolism and weight that you can’t lose even if you exercise more or restrict calories.

Since inflammation can be the main cause of elevated cortisol, finding the source of the inflammation is key. Functional lab testing will show what’s causing inflammation, hypothyroid symptoms and poor sleep!

Of course, mental and emotional stress cause your body to release cortisol, too. That’s why I help my clients manage stress better and deal with their anxiety about sleep.

Addressing both the body and the mind’s affect on sleep is the only way to truly start sleeping better.

The fact that you can’t lose weight isn’t your fault. It’s not because you don’t have enough self-discipline or you eat too much or you don’t exercise enough. The old paradigm of calories in=calories out has been proven untrue time and time again. There are things going on in your body that are keeping you from being able to lose weight normally.

I don’t help people specifically with weight loss. In fact, I’m into the intuitive eating, love your body philosophies these days. But some of my clients have struggled to lose weight and by helping them lower cortisol and sleep better, the weight naturally comes off.

As my client Jaipal said after working with me for two months, "I realized I had dropped 15 lbs of extra weight!"

If you’re sick of not sleeping well and being unhealthy, I can help. I address both the body and the mind and how they affect cortisol and sabotage your sleep. Mineral imbalance, hormones and neurotransmitters can also cause insomnia. I look at all of these possibilities to find the root cause of your insomnia.

You can schedule a free call with me to talk about what’s going on with your sleep and what you’d like your sleep and health to be like. I’ll tell you the exact steps to take to start getting the sleep you need. I know what it’s like to not sleep and I don't want you to go without sleep any longer!

Book your call here

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Martha Lewis, MS, APSC

Jackson Hole, WY



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MEDICAL DISCLAIMER: The opinions expressed on this site and by Martha Lewis and guests are published for educational and informational purposes only, and are not intended as a diagnosis, treatment or as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis and treatment. Please consult a local physician or other health care professional for your specific health care and/or medical needs or concerns. Information on this website is provided for informational purposes only and not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified healthcare professional and is not intended as medical advice. Martha Lewis provides information based on her thorough education and encourages you to make your own health care decisions based upon your research and in partnership with a qualified healthcare professional. If you have or suspect that you have a medical problem, contact your health care provider promptly. Do not disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking professional advice because of something you have read on this website. Information provided on this website and the use by you of any products or services referenced on this website DOES NOT create a doctor-patient relationship between you and Martha Lewis. Information and statements regarding dietary supplements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.