First 30 Days Blog

29 mar

Can You Sleep Off the Pounds?

MattDenosBy Matthew Denos, Ph.D.

It may sound too good to be true, but a number of scientific studies are finding a relationship between sleeping habits and weight that suggests getting enough sleep may help you stay slim. This is good news for many of us, who have room to improve when it comes to our sleeping habits. Just a few decades ago Americans slept at least eight hours per night; today almost one-third of Americans report getting fewer than six hours of sleep. While there’s no question that diet and exercise are essential to staying healthy and trim, today’s obsessions with carbs, supplements, and fancy exercise equipment cause many of us to overlook a basic building block to a healthy life: a good night’s sleep. Placing a bit more importance on healthy sleeping habits may just be an easy way to lose a few pounds.

Studies Show Those Who Sleep Less Weigh More
Researchers in several different studies have found that people who get less than 7-8 hours of sleep per night tend to weigh more than those who get more shut-eye. One particularly large study found that a difference of just one hour per night was enough to predict weight gain among middle-aged women. Information collected from nearly 70,000 women over the course of 16 years showed that in every point in time, women who slept 7 hours per night weighed less than those who slept fewer hours. Those who slept 5 hours or less per night were 32% more likely to experience major weight gain (33 pounds or more) and 14% more likely to become obese over the course of the study. Those who slept an extra hour—6 instead of 5—fared a little better, but were still 12% more likely to experience major weight gain and 6% more likely to become obese.

The link between sleep and weight isn’t just true for women—it has also been found in men and even children. A study of adults 65 and older reported that men who slept fewer than 5 hours per night had an average Body Mass Index (BMI) 2.5 points higher than those who slept 7-8 hours and were 3.7 times more likely to be obese. Differences for women weren’t quite as great, but were still significant: average BMI was 1.8 points higher and they were 2.3 times more likely to be obese. And for both sexes, the difference in weight was a result of more fat, not more muscle.

The Role of Hormones
Scientists don’t know all the details about what causes this relationship between sleep and weight, but many point to the influence sleep has on hormone levels. Hormones are responsible for many of our physical responses, including appetite and eating behavior. Studies have found that being sleep-deprived affects ghrelin and leptin, the hormones responsible for regulating our eating behavior. Ghrelin is the chemical that tells your brain your body’s hungry, while leptin is the one that lets you know you’ve had enough to eat. Being sleep deprived causes your ghrelin levels to increase at the same time your leptin levels decrease. As you might guess, this leads to feeling hungrier.

Being hungrier might not make such a difference if sleep deprived people snacked on carrots and celery sticks, but it turns out that not getting enough sleep influences the kind of food we want to eat as well as the amount. When we’re sleepy, we tend to reach for foods that are high in fat and carbohydrates. Next time you get only a few hours of sleep, pay attention to the food you crave the next day—you’ll probably find that potato chips sound even better than usual. And even as you’re craving carbohydrates, sleep deprivation is interfering with your body’s ability to metabolize them, increasing insulin levels and promoting fat storage.

Combine higher levels of the hunger-causing hormone with a preference for high-calorie foods and decreased metabolism and it’s easy to see how sleeping too little can lead to weight gain.

Sleeping To Lose
It can be a struggle to fit everything into a 24-hour day, and too often a full night of sleep is one of the first things we sacrifice. But if you’re trying to lose weight, hoping to avoid the extra pounds that come with aging, or just want to maintain optimum health, you should make sleeping well a priority. This means getting at least 7 hours of sleep each night. If you have trouble sleeping, here are a few tips you can try:

  • Go to bed and wake up at the same time each day.
  • Limit activities like computer use and television for an hour or two before bed.
  • Keep your room dark and cool—sleep experts recommend about 68 degrees F.
  • Use your bed only for sleeping, not for activities like reading, working, or watching television.
  • If you get plenty of sleep but still feel tired, visit your doctor to rule out conditions like sleep apnea.

Of course, sleep is just one part of keeping your weight in control—diet and exercise are still important. But with a good night’s sleep, you just may find that you’re less inclined to make poor food choices, have more energy to exercise, and simply feel better during the day—all while decreasing your risk for becoming overweight or obese. You have nothing to lose except the weight!

Matthew Denos is a medical scientist and writer who provides valuable diet and weight loss tips based on studies from peer-reviewed scientific journals. His website www.weightlosstriumph.com offers a coupon for Medifast and a Nutrisystem promotion discount, two clinically proven weight loss programs.

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Posted by Susan Brown on March 29th, 2010 in Diet and Fitness, Health | 0 comments Read related posts in , , , , , , ,

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