Is gaining sleep a key to losing weight?

Researchers continue to learn more about the relationship between reduced sleep and weight gain. If you are feeling out of control with food, eating or weight it is something important to pay attention to.

Do you overeat when you are tired? I know I do. It’s easy to mistake feelings of tiredness for hunger, and it’s tempting to eat when we’re tired to try to increase our energy or alertness.

Now we are learning that being low on sleep can actually cause you to be hungrier and that skimping on sleep may cause weight gain whether or not you eat more!

Short-term sleep deprivation seems to lower levels of leptin, a hormone that tells us when we are full, and increase levels of the hormone ghrelin, which promotes appetite. Have you had the experience after a night of little sleep where you feel like you can eat everything in sight and never feel full? That’s likely the low leptin, high ghrelin effect. In one study, of 12 males whose sleep was restricted for two days, appetite increased dramatically, as did the desire for sweets, starch and salty foods. In fact, cravings for high carbohydrate, high calorie foods increased by 45 percent!

Sleep restriction seems to cause physiologic effects that may actually predispose one to gain weight, and this may be at least partially independent of how much you eat. In a study involving over 68,000 women who were followed for 16 years, knowing that a subject usually slept less than seven hours a night was predictive of weight gain, including a substantial increased risk of major weight gain (greater than 33 pounds over the sixteen years) and obesity. Women who regularly slept five hours or less were 32% more likely to have gained at least 33 pounds over the 16 years than those who slept 7-8 hours.

Even when researchers controlled for levels of caloric intake and activity, those who slept less gained more weight. The weight gain was not accounted for by the amount of food that was eaten!

Other studies of men and women have documented higher levels of body fat in individuals who sleep less than 8 hours a night. Although the complicated relationship between sleep and weight is far from well understood, certain findings seem to be consistent, and at least one point seems clear. Sleep is not a variable that should be overlooked in anyone’s self care.

For busy people, sleep is often the first thing to go when the to-do list gets too crowded. It’s a huge mistake—for lots of different reasons—and staying in control of your relationship with food is one of them.


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