When I heard the results of the study linking a lack of sleep to weight gain, I thought “well duh.” At the time I had an infant and a two year old. I wasn’t sleeping much at all, and with a little experimentation of my own I figured out that I could keep my sleep-deprived brain functioning by substituting food for sleep.
The plan worked great for keeping me awake to take care of my kids, but it failed at helping me control my weight (and take care of me.)
If you think about it sleep and food are both used to give you energy, so one can be substituted for the other. When people lack food they sleep more because their bodies want to conserve energy and when they lack sleep, they crave more food to give them energy.
There are times in your life, like when you are a new mom, that it is difficult to get adequate sleep, but most of the time we are the ones guilty of depriving our bodies of sleep. We develop bad habits like staying up to watch late night comedians or drinking coffee late in the day so we will stay up longer and work. You might not be missing enough sleep to cause you to walk around in a stupor all day; the effect might be much more subtle than that. Like you might be eating more and always wondering why you are so hungry.
Luckily, the answer is simple. Go to bed (alone, and sleep). One good night of sleep probably won’t make a huge difference, but better sleep habits will. If you need proof, keep track in a journal or calendar. Note how many hours you sleep each night for a few weeks and how hungry you are in general. I will bet you will see a pattern of sleep deprivation, hunger and weight gain.