Sleep Deprivation & Weight Gain


Busy? Wait. Busy AND gaining weight despite your best efforts? Attachment parenting expert and health coach for moms, Brandie Hadfield, gives us a breakdown of how nutrition affects sleep, and how lack of sleep can contribute to weight gain… or put the kibosh on your weight loss after baby.

Uh-oh.  It’s January… back to the daily grind, stressing over our to-do lists and trying to improve ourselves and stick to our New Year’s Resolutions.  And for many of us, with a new baby!  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 night’s 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, fewer calories are burned, and the bad-eating habits are ingrained and harder to break.

Here are some strategies to help you 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 an elimination 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+.

mini meals Eat mini meals to keep energy levels constant. Keeping a healthy platter out helps you avoid temptation!

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:

  • hot oats, cooked millet, or even shredded wheat cereal with sliced banana and milk
  • whole grain crackers with cheese
  • pita and hummus
  • whole grain muffin with a glass of milk
  • peanut butter sandwich (sprinkle a tablespoon of ground flax on the PB)
  • an apple or banana with peanut butter spread on top
  • plain greek yogurt with chopped up apple slices, walnuts, cinnamon and some honey to taste

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 make progress toward 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


You found the hidden Scavenger Hunt in our February Newsletter!

It’s that time of year still when we’re trying to get the family healthy and on the right track for the  New Year. How would you like a chance to win a Copy-Kids Eat Fruit and Vegetables DVD that will help your little one (6 mo – 5 years) find the fun in eating their fruits and veggies?! AND for you mom’s out there – a box of Happy Thoughts for Mothers! A sweet box containing encouraging sayings that will help you through the day. Both of these are PTPA winners and one lucky winner will receive both!

How do you enter? Comment below on this blog post and tell us how you’re managing to stay healthy and happy this year.

Contest is open to both US and Canadian residents. Winner will be chosen on Friday, February 8th. Good luck!

Comments (58)

  • All great tips!! For me it is odd – when I am not sleeping well it is usually because of stress and I tend to eat less. Though when I was not sleeping because of babies waking up I def ate more 🙂

  • Kathryn, me too! I usually have LESS of an appetite when stressed. But sleep deprived? I could stop at every drive-thru I pass… haha.

    Another good related tip is just to go to bed if you start to feel snacky at night. Usually it’s a good sign that you’re looking for energy because you’ve run out! Time to sleep!

  • WOW! This is such an amazing post. Explains a lot too! Bookmarking this and sharing with all the moms I know!

  • I have been sick and sleep deprived and all I want to do is eat comfort food. Great tips for making the right choices.

  • Great tips! I have definitely been making water my #1 beverage of choice and elimating nighttime snacking. Brushing your teeth right after supper helps.

  • I agree that brushing out teeth after dinner discourages night snacking, as well as keeping our water cooler stocked, (no fridge temptations when we grab our waters!).

  • I only drink water as is. Instead of sweets I got some trail mix and grab a handful of that when I need something.

  • i’m trying hard to incorporate fruits and veg into our daily menu. the kids and husband are all so picky that i have just given up over the last year so this year i’m starting fresh. making the produce aisle a must.

    danielle thorne
  • Ive increased my water intake and am trying to eat more fruits and veggies

  • When I am able to find a sliver in my day to actually sit and eat while baby is preoccupied/sleeping, I can’t make the time to prepare a healthy meal, or even sit & relax to eat what I’ve whip up.

    My issue is not about choosing healthy meals, but remembering to eat in general! That, plus sneaking in some sleep.. How do these new moms do it!??

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  • There are many causes of sleep deprivation. The stresses of daily life may intrude upon our ability to sleep well, or perhaps we trade sleep for more work or play. We may have medical or mental-health conditions that disrupt our sleep, and be well aware that we are sleep-deprived.`^..`

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