Is lack of sleep making you gain weight?

by Mary C. Weaver, CSCS on December 21, 2012

Is lack of sleep maining you gain weight?

The fittest women I know work hard for their healthy physiques. They do rigorous workouts, plan and eat nutritious meals, and continually educate themselves on diet and exercise. Yet one of the best strategies we can adopt to get or stay lean and healthy could involve the opposite of work.

I’m talking about sleep, delicious sleep.

My mother used to tell me that her mom used to say, “Thank God for a bed” at night before retiring. Mom said that when she was young, she thought that was pretty weird . . . but as she got older, she realized that having a bed—and a good night’s sleep—is truly a blessing.

We’re often so focused on doing, doing, doing that sleep gets sacrificed. And it turns out that can really damage your health and your fat-loss plan.

A recently published study strengthens the evidence that lack of sleep or disrupted sleep—like you get when you’re jet-lagged or you have to do shift work—can increase the risk of diabetes and obesity.

The study is especially strong because it studied healthy people in a completely controlled environment.

Here’s what happened

You’ll be shocked at what was considered optimal sleep: about 10 hours a day. Not many people have time for that!

But then the human guinea pigs spent three weeks getting just 5.6 hours of sleep per 24 and trying to catch those z’s at many different times of the day and night.

Here’s what the researchers found: those periods of short and disrupted sleep actually reduced the participants’ resting metabolic rate. That means they were burning fewer calories than normal.

Their blood sugar (glucose) concentration after meals increased more than normal because the pancreas wasn’t doing a good job of secreting insulin.

The decreased metabolic rate “could translate into a yearly weight gain of over 10 pounds if diet and activity [were] unchanged,” according to a ScienceDaily report on the study.

And the elevated blood sugar and impaired insulin secretion “could lead to an increased risk for diabetes.”

You can read the scientific abstract here and the ScienceDaily report here.

This jibes with earlier research indicating that sleep-deprived subjects ate an average of 550 calories per day more than those who routinely slumbered for seven to eight hours.

Insufficient sleep is associated not only with increased hunger but also with depression, heart disease, and accidents while driving or on the job.

The bottom line: if you’re not typically getting seven to eight hours a night, make better sleep a priority.

If you have trouble falling or staying asleep

  • avoid alcohol at night (which may help you get drowsy but disrupts your sleep cycle)
  • put caffeinated beverages on hold after lunchtime
  • don’t work out late in the day, if you can help it.
What’s your story? Are you having to sacrifice sleep to meet your other commitments?
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