Sleep & Science: Adventures with Leptin

The human body frequently gets compared to a machine. It’s not. Making a comparison like that is taking a mental shortcut. Writers searching for convenient analogies are guilty. We should forgive them, however, because they’re just trying to explain how stuff works in easily understood ways.

Besides the fact humans are living and machine aren’t, machines operate with cause and effect. This causes that. That is that. While cause and effect can work like that in the human body, there’s a lot of grey area too. The processes can have many steps.

Consider how blood coagulates. There’s a lot of steps, a cascade of them. Consider, too, how the body makes insulin. A lot of steps to that as well. Scientists are still sorting a number of them out. Drug companies make billions of dollars developing and marketing drugs to treat shortcomings in these processes.

The more steps, the more complicated the process, the less the cause and effect are apparent.

When something isn’t apparent, it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. It only means that it’s hard to see.

Take the example of the hormone leptin. Known as the hormone of energy expenditure, it makes people feel full. Scientists have shown how obese people have a decreased resistance to this hormone. They don’t feel full despite having plenty of energy stored and high levels of leptin in their blood.

Think of this: we’ve had obese people for many years. This hormone was only identified in 1994 by Jeffrey M. Friedman, a molecular geneticist at Rockefeller University. Not too long ago when considered in light of overall human history.

Leptin has a wide-ranging role in the body. Scientists aren’t exactly sure of the entire scope, though there are a lot of potential clues that there is more to it than we know. One of the clues is the way it’s made in different places in the body. It’s made in the brown adipose tissues, the skeletal muscle, bone marrow, and the stomach. In women, it’s also made in the ovaries and breast tissue.

When someone is sleep deprived, the level of leptin decreases. Lower leptin levels mean you’re hungry. When you’re hungry, you tend to eat more.

Blood levels of leptin go higher at night. This means the appetite is suppressed.

When someone is emotionally stressed, leptin levels increase. They don’t want to eat.

Does this mean that we should allow ourselves to become stressed to lose weight?

No. These processes are complicated and multifaceted. The right amount of stress adds spice to life. Too much stress puts pressure on it and affects the body in a bad way.

As shown in the illustration, leptin is opposed by another hormone, ghrelin, the hunger hormone. You want these in balance. Neither is all-good or all bad.

Another reason for you to get serious about your sleep and dream journaling.

Whatever it takes to get you into bed and get enough of it. Getting enough sleep means you’re serious about putting your body in balance so that it functions like a well-oiled machine. Though it’s clearly not a machine as we said above. Nobody wants to be obese because it limits options in life in so many ways.

What you want is called homeostasis. A balance. Not too much of one thing or too little of another. Homeostasis is something beautiful. Sometimes it comes off as boring, but those who appreciate homeostasis realize there are better ways of having fun and excitement than messing with a balanced state.