If a healthy weight is on your 2013 agenda, don’t neglect your shut-eye

© Ng | Stock Free Images & Dreamstime Stock Photos

© Ng | Stock Free Images & Dreamstime Stock Photos

If hearing yet again that a lack of sleep can affect your weight and health feels like a bit of a yawn, shake off those cobwebs and take a listen:  A German study  found that just one night without sufficient shut-eye can reduce your metabolism enough to make a difference in your weight. And chronic sleep deprivation?  It’s a prescription for packing on the pounds and upping your risk for assorted ailments, such as diabetes, heart disease and stroke.

In the German research, healthy male subjects were evaluated following two different 24-hour periods – one where they slept, as normal, for eight hours at night and another during which they remained awake for an entire day.

After missing just one night’s sleep, there were a number of hormonal changes including higher stress hormone levels, such as cortisol – a substance that’s linked to putting on weight around the middle. To add to the weight control woes, resting metabolic rates also decreased by five per cent.

And the normal boost in calorie burning that occurs after eating a meal? Twenty per cent less than it was when they slept for longer.

Another  study from the University of Chicago Medical Center looked at the impact of too little sleep on overweight women who were on weight loss programs. Each subject was placed on two different sleep regimes – either 8.5 or 5.5 hours of sleep a night – for two weeks each. Their caloric intake was the same on both segments of the investigation.

Although participants lost the same amount of weight on both sleep regimes, when they cut back on their shut-eye, just one quarter of the weight loss came from fat. The other 75 per cent came from muscle or lean body mass. And since it’s muscle that burns calories, the lack of sleep ends up taking a double toll on metabolism, making girth control very difficult indeed.

And there’s even more bad news to report. During the shorter sleep periods, the subjects had higher levels of ghrelin, a hormone that triggers hunger. In the study, participants’ food intake was strictly regulated, which prevented the sleep-deprived subjects from overeating. But in the real world where there’s free access to food, you can bet that increased hunger will lead to overindulgence.

Like cortisol, ghrelin also promotes fat accumulation – particularly in the abdominal area, where it can be most harmful to health. Belly fat also goes hand in hand with sleep apnea and poor quality sleep. In fact, weight loss is one of the remedies suggested for this sleep disorder – talk about a vicious cycle!

Other research from University of Chicago Clinical Resource Center found that insufficient sleep increases the risk for insulin resistance and  type 2 diabetes.  In the study, young, healthy and lean subjects spent four days in a row with either    4.5 hours in bed or 8.5 hours in bed with similar caloric intakes and physical activity. After the days of sleep deprivations, the subjects showed an average decrease in insulin sensitivity of 16 per cent compared to when they had adequate sleep.

When the body is insensitive to insulin, as the hormone is responsible blood sugar regulation, blood sugar levels can climb. This insulin resistant state  can therefore ultimately lead to type 2 diabetes.

While it’s certainly clear that active living is key for easier waist management, disease prevention  and good health, sleep is one very sedentary activity you should also make a priority, whether or not you’re currently at a healthy weight.

Here are a few tips to help you snooze.
•     Don’t booze it up
While alcohol can make you feel mellow and relaxed, in excess it can disrupt sleep patterns and leave you tossing and turning through the night.

•     Know your caffeine tolerance
Everybody is different when it comes to caffeine’s impact on sleep.  For some people, noon may be a cut off time for a beverages containing caffeine while others can tolerate an after-dinner espresso. How caffeine affects you can change over time. Also keep in mind that decaffeinated does not mean caffeine-free. Even the small amounts in some decaf coffees, for example, can lead to a poor night’s sleep for some.

•    Go for carb-rich choices at night rather than protein-laden ones.
Instead of a hunk of meat at dinner, go for whole grain pasta or a grain and vegetable-based dish at dinner or a little cereal before bed and you’ll boost your serotonin levels. Serotonin is a compound in the brain which can help you feel sleepy. Protein-packed foods block its production so they’re a better choice for during the day when you want to feel alert.


Do you struggle with both your weight and getting enough sleep? Have you noticed any difference in energy and appetite when you sleep more? Please share in the comment section below.

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Categories: Research Roundup, Weight Management

Author:Rosie Schwartz

Rosie Schwartz is a Toronto-based consulting dietitian and writer.

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