This time of year is known for its mouth-watering main courses, delectable sweets, and generous portions. With Thanksgiving behind us and the Christmas season in full swing, the temptation to overeat—or to eat treats high in fat and sugar—is looming. Surprisingly, the easiest, most stress-free way to avoid weight gain might not be exercising or dieting—but just getting enough sleep.
Sleeping Less = Weighing More
Several studies have shown the same marked, surprising correlation: people suffering from sleep deprivation are much more likely to overeat.
A study by the American Heart Association found that when people slept even 2/3 of their normal amount they consumed 500 calories more than they did when well-rested, while burning off the same amount of calories in walking and movement. These people would be prone to substantial weight gain over time!
Another study conducted by the University of Colorado found that even short-term sleep deprivation can have a marked impact on weight. Researchers carefully monitored a group of subjects for two weeks. One week they were allowed a full nine hours of sleep, and the next they were restricted to only five. The study found that over the course of only one week, the people sleeping five hours per night gained two pounds.
What’s the connection between fatigue and fat?
People who sleep less don’t just eat more than their well-rested counterparts; they also eat worse, consuming more carbohydrates and more fatty food.
A study conducted at Harvard Medical School set out to determine why this might be. They measured the brainwaves of several volunteers while showing them pictures of healthy foods (such as vegetables) and unhealthy foods (like cheeseburgers and candy). They found that sleepy people showed less activity in ventral-medial prefrontal cortex, a part of the brain tasked with inhibiting and controlling feelings and behaviors, when looking at the unhealthy food. What does this mean? It means that when people are sleepy, they are less able to resist the temptation of delicious but fattening food.
In addition to impairing impulse control, chronic drowsiness can also upset circadian rhythms and hormonal balances in people, which can mess up their appetites and their eating schedules.
What are the long-term implications of this correlation?
They health and weight risks of people who routinely under-sleep are clear. One study found that shift-workers, those who work during the night, gain more weight than other workers. Also, tired women are more prone to overeat than tired men. In fact, anyone who is getting insufficient sleep could find themselves overeating and putting on undesired pounds!
This correlation could be especially important for people with sleep apnea, a sleep disorder that prevents patients from getting a restful night and leads to chronic fatigue. It is very well-established that obesity is a risk factor for sleep apnea; these studies imply that sleep apnea may also cause weight gain as well.
Holiday Game Plan
Our number one piece of advice: get enough sleep! Not only will you see the benefits in your waistline, but it will improve your mood, concentration, and overall health too!
So this holiday season, kick back, eat some good food, and relax!
Are you concerned that you or a loved one may suffer from excessive daytime sleepiness?
Other posts you may find interesting:
- Foods That Help You Sleep
- Get Your Beauty Sleep: Sleep Makes You More Attractive
- Deadly Effects of Sleep Apnea
- Does My Dad Have Sleep Apnea?
Photo Credit: D Sharon Pruitt