Sleep Deprivation and Weight Gain

Uh-oh. It’s December. We all know what that means. Most of us are preparing for the holidays, and that includes over-indulging on the treats, stressing over our to-do lists and drinking more than we should (caffeine and alcohol). And for many of us, we have a baby too! With the additional stresses of parenthood and a whole lotta’ sleep deprivation, what we have is a recipe for weight gain.

It really surprises me how of all the baby sleep books written, I have yet to find one that address family nutrition as part of the strategy for a better nights rest. I spend a lot of time with clients discussing diet and its role in sleep. If more of us were educated on this fact from the time we conceived our children, the less likely we would be to feel our child has sleep problems, and the better equipped we would be able to handle our babies night wakings. This is good news for many parents who are at their wits end – that there are holistic strategies available.

Remember, parenthood is the marathon of LIFE! You are coping with physical demands of the activity required (long walks with baby in the carrier, dancing baby to sleep, crouching down constantly, bending to assist them in taking first steps etc.). If you are breastfeeding, you are expending additional energy (500-900 calories may be burned daily), which can be taxing if you do not have enough high-octane fuel. You are dealing with some of the most stressful times of your life, with a new role of parent, juggling the other roles you play in life, and the shifting of relationships with your parents, in-laws, and spouse. ALL of this while not getting the sleep you are accustomed to.

Why is it that while we are burning all these extra calories in early parenthood, we continue to gain weight, or find it difficult to lose the pregnancy weight? This challenge is not exclusive to women either – the average man gains 14 lbs during their partners’ pregnancy, and often that weight gain continues for the first year of parenthood, and sometimes longer.

The reasons for weight gain include the fact that too little sleep stimulates hunger through deregulating the hormones ghrelin and leptin, and less sleep increases our cravings for calorie-rich, high-sugar and high-fat meals. The habit many of us fall into, is eating like a teenager when we should be fueling our bodies like athletes. Interestingly, the same effects can be found in those who sleep too much (teenagers?). The problem turns into a deeper one once life becomes more sedentary, baby is weaned, less calories are burned, and the bad-eating habits are ingrained and harder to break.

The following are some ways that you can eat to stabilize your mood, optimize the broken sleep you are getting, and keep weight gain at bay:

1. Check possible food sensitivities.  It is possible that if you are suffering with a gassy, colicky baby, that your diet may be playing a role in baby’s night wakings.  Common culprits include gluten, dairy, soy, peanuts and shellfish.  You can try eliminating 2-3 at a time and re-introducing them after 2 weeks to see if there is any reaction.  Another option is to try if you feel positive that diet is playing a role, is anelimination diet such as this.

2. Make water your beverage of choice.  We are made up of approximately 70% water, and this fluid is the essence of life.  It helps our bodies function and make our own custom “medicines” to fight illnesses.  We need to be drinking half our body weight in ounces of water – so if you weigh 140 lbs, you require 70 oz per day (2 litres), but if you are breastfeeding, you require even more than this.  A good rule of thumb is to drink when baby drinks.

3. Strive for your 9-13 servings of produce.  By filling up on fresh fruits and veggies, we give ourselves the best gift of prevention possible.  Not only does consuming produce help fill us up to keep us from indulging on junk, but it also combats free radical damage.  Free radicals are like bullets ricocheting in our bodies causing damage that lead to disease.  These free radicals are caused by environmental pollutants, the stress we are ensuring emotionally and physically, and factors such as sleep deprivation.  Since most of us have a difficult time getting the variety of colours on a daily basis, I always recommend an excellent whole food supplement called Juice Plus+.

4. Eat the “good” fats. The best fats come from plants, the next best come from fish and animals, and the fats to avoid at all cost, come from factories.  Good fats have many benefits, including helping brain and hormone function, thus keeping your moodswings and your waistline under control.

5. Have protein on hand, at all times. Protein helps us re-build, and when we are under as much stress as we are, enduring the “Marathon of Life”, we need a steady supply of protein to keep our bodies and brains strong.  Much like fruits and veggies, it is almost impossible to eat too much protein, and since it is so essential, including it at every meal and snack is a good idea.  Easy ways to do this are with nuts and nut butters, yogurt, cheese, lean meats that are pre-cooked, and canned tuna and beans.

6. Ditch the stimulants. I will be the first to admit, I tried to quit coffee and chocolate and I decided to keep it in my diet as my vices of choice.  The negative effects of my doing so, include the fact that I do have a harder time falling asleep than when I am able to nix it from my diet.  As I mentioned in my “History of Sleep” post, humans did not seem to have any real issues with sleep until the invention of electric lights and caffeinated beverages.

7. Eat happy carbs!  Yahoo!  Gone are the days of touting low-carb as a healthy way to eat – about half of our calories should come from carbs.  In order to be considered “complex” (or “happy”), the carbohydrate needs to have two friends – protein and fibre.  By eating the right carbs you will have fewer blood sugar crashes, and release less stress hormones.  Less stress means a better equipped night-time parent.

8. NO sweets before bed.  Almost EVERY PARENT I HAVE WORKED WITH eats ice-cream before bed.  You guys have to stop!  Not only does it cause your blood sugar to rise and crash (causing night wakings for you, in addition to your lovely children), but these empty calories make you more irritable than you already are with fragmented sleep.  Breastfeeding mamas, you do need a good bedtime snack, and I have a list of some good choices for you:

Dr. Sears also has some simple, nutritious dinner ideas for optimum sleep here!

This year, see if by incorporating the tips above help you to get a head start on your New Years resolutions, and keep you feeling closer to the pre-baby you during this exhausting chapter of your life.  For additional holistic sleep support options, visit


Natasha Marchand CD, HBCE, YTT200
COO, Director of Fertility & Marketing
Certified labour doula, HypnoBirthing Practitioner, Yoga/Fitness Instructor

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