Why Parenthood Is Making You Fat

If there is one thing parents love recounting to their children it’s the many sleepless nights they had to endure to raise them. Whether it’s colic or your teenager coming home past curfew we’ve all had our nights where we had less than optimal sleep.  But what happens if this is a regular occurrence?

Chronically sleep deprivation (aka parenthood – especially in the early years) is associated with many negative consequences for your body, especially if you are trying to get or stay fit.

We all know we are supposed to get 7-8 hours of sleep a night but studies show that 1 out of 3 adults is getting less than 6 hours. First, let’s cover some sleep basics:

The Four Phases of Sleep

Stage One: This is the lightest stage of sleep where you spend roughly 5-10% of your night. In this stage, you are in a semi-conscious state between being asleep and awake.

Stage Two: Stage two is where you spend the majority of your sleep (55%) and where your brain waves start to slow down.

Stage Three: This is the money stage and marked by the slowest brain wave activity. Even though it only accounts for 15-25% it is here that the body gets most of the regenerative powers of sleep and is the most important stage for building muscle or losing fat.

REM: This stage is marked by rapid eye movement (REM) and increased brain activity due to dreaming.

Sleep and Building Muscle

So you want some gainz!? In that case, you need to be sure you’re getting your beauty rest. It takes approximately 90 minutes to go through a complete sleep cycle in which you only reach stage 3 once. This is important because in order to build muscle you need two main hormones, growth hormone (GH) and testosterone, and both of these are released primarily during stage three sleep. In fact, 70% of the GH you get is released in stage three sleep and the total amount you get is directly related to how much stage 3 sleep you get. The more sleep cycles you are able to get through the better.

Sleep and Fatloss

The main three hormones that sleep effects for fat loss are cortisol, ghrelin, and leptin.

Cortisol: The dreaded stress hormone. Whether you actually feel stressed from your lack of sleep of not losing z’s is a stress on your body. A restriction of sleep can increase your cortisol levels the next day by as much as 45%! The bad news for your waistline is with increased cortisol your body holds more fat, especially in the midsection.

Ghrelin and Leptin: Ghrelin is associated with feelings of hunger while leptin is tied to feelings of fullness. Together they feed off each other as increased ghrelin makes you feel hungrier while the decreased leptin makes it more difficult to feel full.


To make things worse, not only do you want to eat more but your body craves calorie dense high fat/carb foods like sweets and baked goods. A recent study even showed that participants who slept less than 5 ½ hours consumed on average 385 more calories than those who slept more.

What do 385 calories look like?

  • Medium McDonalds Fries
  • 1.5 Grilled Cheeses
  • 1.5 Slices of Pizza
  • 1.5 Frosted Donuts

If that wasn’t enough to kill all your hard work in the gym the amount of calories your body burns at rest is decreased by as much as 20% the day after. So not only do you want to eat more unhealthy foods but they are harder to burn off.

So What Can I Do About It?

Don’t worry, all hope is not lost. Follow these 6 tips to get a good night’s rest:

1.     Have a bedtime ritual

Creating a relaxing bedtime ritual that you do EVERY DAY will signal to your body that it is time to go to sleep.

2.     Consistent to bed/ wake times

Similar to the bedtime ritual going to bed and waking up at the same time every day puts your body on a schedule it can rely on. This works best if you actually do it every day. Waking up at 7am on weekdays but 11am on the weekend will negate the whole process.

3.     Limit screen time/ blue light before bed

I’m sure you have read about this or heard about it in the news as it is a current trend, but it’s true.  The light emitted from screens screws up your circadian rhythm and melatonin production making it harder for you to fall asleep.

4.     Supplements

Certain minerals like magnesium (I personally prefer a blend of zinc and magnesium branded as ZMA) can help reduce cortisol that can keep you awake and help muscles relax. Another option would be supplementing with melatonin in either a capsule or spray formula. Personally, I like the Sleep Well Spray by Arbonne, a natural health and wellness company (full disclosure I am an independent sales consultant for Arbonne).

5.     Limit afternoon caffeine

This may seem obvious but the half-life of caffeine in your body is 5-6 hours so try to plan your evening backward from bedtime and maybe reconsider the coffee after dinner.

6.     Have a good dinner

Eating a dinner that heavy in carbs such as pasta can as we all know make you a little sleepy. Use this to your advantage and don’t fight it when your eyelids start to sag.