As you’re likely already aware, obesity is, quite literally, a growing epidemic in the United States. You’ve heard it all before: more sedentary lifestyles, oversized food proportions and lack of access to healthy foods contribute to a nation-wide public health problem.
The advice we often hear when it comes to losing weight is “eat less and move more.” In theory, this is sound instruction, but it may be missing the root of the problem.
According to a study published this January in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, obtaining at least seven hours of sleep a night may help you eat less sugar. Initially, the study was performed to see if it would be possible to extend the sleep duration for “short sleepers” in just one brief period of time. They used 42 healthy adults who slept between five to seven hours a night, asking them to wear sleep trackers and keep food and sleep diaries each week.
Half of the group participated in a 45-minute sleep consultation with a sleep psychologist with the goal of increasing their sleep duration by an hour and a half each night. To do this, the sleep specialist recommended avoiding caffeine and electronics before bed, creating a relaxing night routine, and going to bed neither full nor hungry.
The other half, the control group, were asked to continue their normal sleep behaviors. The study followed the subjects for a total of 4 weeks.
After 4 weeks, researchers noticed something interesting in the food journals of the subjects who were asked to alter their sleep hygiene. They found that “people who extended their sleep patterns consumed, on average, 10 grams fewer (of) added sugars per day at the end of the study compared to the beginning.”
And while this evidence is not as conclusive, the study found that those who slept longer consumed fewer total carbohydrates and fats, too.
This link between a lack of sleep and consuming more calories has been demonstrated before in other studies, such as this one from the National Sleep Foundation (NSF). In the NSF study, 17 healthy young men and women were observed for eight nights, with half of the participants were asked to sleep as they usually would while the other half only slept two-thirds of their normal time.
Participants weren’t asked to change their diet at all, but researchers found that the sleep-deprived group, who slept about one hour and 20 minutes less than the other group, consumed on average approximately 550 more calories each day. The lack of sleep was also found to increase leptin and decrease ghrelin, two hormones that directly affect appetite and how satisfied you feel after a meal. This research suggested that sleep deprivation may be “an important part and one preventable cause of weight gain and obesity.”
The Bottom Line
You can eat lean proteins and vegetables, exercise with weights and cardio three times a week, and do all you can to avoid junk food and sugar – but you won’t ever be fully rewarded for those efforts without proper sleep. If your body is running on low fuel, it also affects the energy you have to exercise and your body’s ability to recover after a workout (which is crucial for building muscle). Incorporating more sleep into your schedule is a solid strategy if you’re trying to lose weight, tone up, or simply avoid unhealthy, high-calorie foods.
If you have an appetite that never seems to go away and you find yourself feeling constantly drowsy despite how much you sleep, you may have a sleep disorder such as sleep apnea. People with untreated sleep apnea often experience inexplicable weight gain and obesity because of a lack of quality rest.
If you believe you may have sleep apnea, it’s important to talk to a doctor for a diagnosis and discussion of proper treatment options. Treating patients for over 20 years, Dr. Jeff Rodgers is an expert in the field of sleep and can help you get the quality rest you deserve. For a free consultation, contact Sleep Better, Georgia today.