Sleep's Role in Weight Control

A good night’s sleep is one of the keys to good health—and may also be a key to maintaining a healthy weight. There is evidence that people who get too little sleep have a higher risk of weight gain and obesity than people who get seven to eight hours of sleep a night. Given our society’s increasing tendency to burn the midnight oil, lack of sleep could be a major contributor to the obesity epidemic. Most studies that measure sleep habits found a link between short sleep duration and obesity.

How Does Sleep Affect Body Weight?

Researchers speculate that there are several ways that sleep deprivation might lead to weight gain, either by increasing how much food people eat or decreasing the energy that they burn.

Sleep deprivation could make you eat more by:

  • Increasing hunger: Sleep deprivation may alter the hormones that control hunger.  One small study found that young men who were deprived of sleep had higher levels of the appetite-stimulating hormone ghrelin and lower levels of the satiety-inducing hormone leptin, with a corresponding increase in hunger and appetite—especially for foods rich in fat and carbohydrates.
  • Giving people more time to eat: People who sleep less each night may eat more than people who get a full night’s sleep simply because they have more waking time available and especially if they are surrounded by tasty snacks.
  • Prompting people to choose less healthy diets: A study of Japanese workers did find that workers who slept fewer than six hours a night were more likely to eat out, have irregular meal patterns and snack than those who slept more than six hours.

Lack of sleep could let you burn less calories by:

  • Decreasing physical activity: People who don’t get enough sleep are more tired during the day and as a result may curb their physical activity. Some studies have found that sleep-deprived people tend to spend more time watching TV, less time playing sports and less time being physically active than people who get enough sleep.
  • Lowering body temperature: In laboratory experiments, people who are sleep-deprived tend to see a drop in their body temperatures. This drop, in turn, may lead to burning less calories.

The Bottom Line: Sleep is a Promising Target for Obesity Prevention

There is more than enough evidence that getting a less than ideal amount of sleep is a risk factor for becoming overweight.

Thus, if you are not getting more than 6 – 8 hours of sleep at night, it’s time to get to a healthy sleep pattern through lifestyle changes, such as setting a consistent bedtime, limiting caffeine late in the day and limiting watching television in the bedroom. Good sleep habits have other benefits, too, like boosting alertness at work, improving mood and enhancing overall quality of life.

Sweet dreams tonight!

Summarised from Harvard’s School of Public Health

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