Losing weight might be in your dreams!

Is this an infomercial? There is no way that controlling our weight could be as easy as getting a little extra sleep. Right? Well it could be possible if you look at some of the research that has been done. When I first heard that one of the main symptoms of sleep deprivation is weight gain, I said “there can be no way that sleep has anything to do with how fat we are.” But then again, when I am tired I start craving chocolate candy or something else high in calories and low in nutrition. The more I studied the effects of not getting enough sleep, the more I began to read how the lack of sleep affected weight gain. This got my curiosity up and I wanted to take a closer look to really know if getting more sleep would change my propensity to gain weight.

First thing that struck me was some simple estimates that I kept running into that I seemed to correlate that no one else was putting together: many studies estimate that more than 30% of adults in America have inadequate amounts of sleep and over one-third of American adults are obese. Wow, these two categories of individuals are so close in their percentages. I have looked for studies that examined a direct correlation between sleeping and obesity and have yet to find one linking these two numbers together. A common conclusion in many obesity studies is that often obese individuals suffer from sleeping disorders, more than likely due to their size. Interestingly enough, their size is never indicated as having been caused by sleep deprivation. As an example as to why an obese person would have more difficulty sleeping, the extra fat on an obese person could restrict blood flow and breathing. Additionally, all that extra body mass is not like a cushion padding their body. Instead, the extra bulk makes getting comfortable more difficult than an average size person.

One of the ways researchers learn about the effects of human behaviors such as sleep patterns is to study rats. It was observed that long-term sleep deprivation of rats would increase their food intake. It was also noted that these rats developed hormonal imbalances that lead to them gaining weight gain and premature death. A theory developed from these observations that sleep deprivation could interfere with human hormone production responsible for regulating appetite and glucose metabolism.  One study reduced an individual’s sleep to 4 hours for two consecutive nights. The resulting data showed lower circulating leptin levels and higher ghrelin levels. Additionally, the study subjects reported increased hunger. Even after a single night of sleep restriction, similar endocrine alterations have been recorded. These results support the theory that sleep loss disturbs endocrine regulation of energy homeostasis leading to weight gain and obesity.

With all this great new information, can we expect that sleeping all the time will make us skinny? Get real! Sleeping will never be the “magic pill” to make us all “body beautiful”. However, it is reasonable to believe that getting enough sleep will help our bodies to do what they are designed to do: balance the hormones that regulate our appetite and glucose metabolism. Maybe we won’t be as tired and have to fight our natural urges to over eat. Did your mom tell you never to eat in bed? Good, then you won’t be consuming calories while sleeping. The good news from all this is that it looks like getting the proper amount of sleep will not only avoid symptoms of sleep deprivation, but it might actually help you lose weight.