Sleep and Weight

sleeping-manAhh, yes, that state of rest for body and soul.  It’s the time when will power and consciousness are suspended, and when body functions are mostly in neutral. Most sleep scientists agree that sleep has considerable value as a recuperative and adaptive function in humans.   Because it takes work for the body to maintain a constant temperature in an environment with temperature ranges, the eight-hour respite affords a chance to reconstitute cells and tissues.  While the body slows down, the brain, on the other hand, revs up its metabolic activity during the REM phase of sleep to get ready for the input of the next day.  Complicated stuff, for sure.

The negative consequences of too little sleep can rattle your chain with fanfare.  Falling asleep at the wheel is scary.  Falling off the pew in church is embarrassing.  Dozing during a business call gets expensive.  And being cranky all day gets you no favors.  But guess what.  Lack of sleep can make you fat, too.  Try to figure that out, since nobody eats when they’re asleep.  Do they?

Just because body functions slow down, it doesn’t mean they stop.  Hormones and other body chemicals are still at work.  Two of those, ghrelin and leptin, are responsible for turning appetite on and off, respectively.  Sleep deprivation seems to crank up the ghrelin and stimulate appetite.  When that happens, you crave more food while losing the sensitivity—or even the common sense—to know when to stop eating.  This problem could well be a circuitous matter:  does fatness cause lack of sleep or is it the other way around, or do they share a common factor?  Hmm.  Michael Breus, sleep researcher extraordinaire, addresses this conundrum in his recently published, “The Sleep Doctor’s Diet Plan:  Lose Weight Through Better Sleep” (Rodale, 2011).  And Dr. Marie-Pierre St-Onge, researcher at the New York Obesity Nutrition Research Center at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital, adds her expertise by pointing out that sleep-deprived people burn the same number of calories during the day as sound sleepers, but, she adds, eat about three hundred more calories a day.  Since there are 3500 calories in a pound, a person will add that pound to his repertoire in a little less than two weeks (St-Onge, 2011)

The interest in the association of lousy sleep to weight problems is international.  Even in Japan, there’s a St. Luke’s Hospital.  Here, doctors checked out more than 21,000 middle-aged guys’ sleep habits and compared them to individual body mass index, finding that the variability of sleep duration is related to weight gain.  And these participants thought that 6 hours’ sleep was enough (Kobayashi, 2012).  Guess they were wrong.  A year earlier, the same docs at the same hospital compared ~7-hour sleepers to ≤5-hour sleepers, and found weight gain and obesity in the deprived group.  It was interesting to note that there was little difference between the 7-hour and 8-hour subjects (Kobayashi, 2011).  The kicker in the 2011 study is that the investigators also found metabolic syndrome to be related to poor sleep (Kobayashi, Takahashi, et al 2011).

In experimentally-induced sleep loss, insulin sensitivity decreases without compensation in beta-cell function, resulting in impaired glucose tolerance and increased risk for diabetes.  Sleep loss down-regulates leptin function, lowers satiety, and up-regulates the appetite enhancing ghrelin.  Increased appetite = increased food intake=weight gain  (Morselli, 2010) (Chamorro, 2011).  Sleep fragmentation—waking every couple hours—causes daytime sleepiness (Mavanji, 2012). We need a study to show that?   In the valiant effort to revitalize, we turn to sugary foods in the hope they’ll provide bursts of energy lasting long enough to get us through the rest of the day.  Empty calories here.  And the energy high is soon followed by an almost audible crash.

With all the studies being performed in this area, you’d think somebody would be working on a remedy.  Maybe we already have one, but don’t know it.  Have you spoken to your doctor about poor sleep?  If you’d rather do it alone, consider a few simple steps.  Go to bed at the same time every night.  The body needs to know when to go to sleep.  Exercise a little bit every day.  That’ll reduce anxiety, one of the biggest reasons for poor sleep.  But don’t do it just before bed.  Do it a few hours beforehand.  If you’re a worrier, keep a journal.  That helps to identify things that aren’t likely to happen, anyway, so you don’t have to worry about them in the first place.  Try not to delay what needs to be done to prepare for the next day.  You’ll only add to the worry list.  Coffee will try to keep you awake for several hours after the last cup in the afternoon, so don’t drink any after, say, 2 or 3 o’clock.  Alcohol will not improve sleep.  It might make you fall asleep faster, but almost certainly will interrupt restorative sleep.  In the AM, drink water before anything else, and get fifteen minutes of sunlight to help reset your circadian clock.

Although the link between sleep loss and weight gain is convincing, the exact science behind the connection is to be determined.  You can always stay up all night and try to catch the leather fairy cutting your belt a little shorter.  Or you can try an alternative sleep aid, such as valerian, melatonin, or a hops sachet under your pillow.  But check with a healthcare professional before you embark.

References

Chamorro RA, Durán SA, Reyes SC, Ponce R, Algarín CR, Peirano PD.
[Sleep deprivation as a risk factor for obesity].  [Article in Spanish]
Rev Med Chil. 2011 Jul;139(7):932-40.

Knutson KL.
Does inadequate sleep play a role in vulnerability to obesity?
Am J Hum Biol. 2012 Jan 24. doi: 10.1002/ajhb.22219. [Epub ahead of print]

Kobayashi D, Takahashi O, Deshpande GA, Shimbo T, Fukui T.
Relation between metabolic syndrome and sleep duration in Japan: a large scale cross-sectional study.
Intern Med. 2011;50(2):103-7. Epub 2011 Jan 15.

Kobayashi D, Takahashi O, Deshpande GA, Shimbo T, Fukui T.
Association between weight gain, obesity, and sleep duration: a large-scale 3-year cohort study.
Sleep Breath. 2011 Sep 3. [Epub ahead of print]

Kobayashi D, Takahashi O, Deshpande GA, Shimbo T, Fukui T.
Association between weight gain, obesity, and sleep duration: a large-scale 3-year cohort study.
Sleep Breath. 2011 Sep 3. [Epub ahead of print]

Kobayashi D, Takahashi O, Shimbo T, Okubo T, Arioka H, Fukui T.
High sleep duration variability is an independent risk factor for weight gain.
Sleep Breath. 2012 Feb 22. [Epub ahead of print]

Mavanji V, Billington CJ, Kotz CM, Teske JA.
Sleep and obesity: a focus on animal models.
Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2012 Mar;36(3):1015-29. Epub 2012 Jan 16.

Morselli L, Leproult R, Balbo M, Spiegel K
Role of sleep duration in the regulation of glucose metabolism and appetite.
Best Pract Res Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2010 Oct;24(5):687-702.

Nedeltcheva AV, Kilkus JM, Imperial J, Schoeller DA, Penev PD.
Insufficient sleep undermines dietary efforts to reduce adiposity.
Ann Intern Med. 2010 Oct 5;153(7):435-41.

Patel SR, Malhotra A, White DP, Gottlieb DJ, Hu FB.
Association between reduced sleep and weight gain in women.
Am J Epidemiol. 2006 Nov 15;164(10):947-54. Epub 2006 Aug 16.

St-Onge MP, Roberts AL, Chen J, Kelleman M, O’Keeffe M, RoyChoudhury A, Jones PJ.
Short sleep duration increases energy intakes but does not change energy expenditure in normal-weight individuals.
Am J Clin Nutr. 2011 Aug;94(2):410-6.

St-Onge MP, McReynolds A, Trivedi ZB, Roberts AL, Sy M, Hirsch J.
Sleep restriction leads to increased activation of brain regions sensitive to food stimuli.
Am J Clin Nutr. 2012 Apr;95(4):818-24.

*These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA.
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