We all know how important quality sleep is to our health, but most of us tend to get less of it as we grow older. Stress, lifestyle issues and the hormonal fluxes of menopause can all disrupt our sleep quality and quantity, and the effects may be more far reaching than just leaving us feeling tired.
New research has explored the relationship between sleep and weight, and there's compelling evidence that people who don't consistently get seven to eight hours of sleep a night may be at a higher risk for weight gain. A review of the literature that focused on sleep and weight studies found a relationship between short sleep duration and increased weight over time. The relationship was strongest for children, an interesting finding in light of the childhood obesity problem in the US. The Nurses Health Study found that women who slept less than five hours a night gained more weight over a 16-year period than women who slept seven hours, and these findings weren't affected by adjustments for physical activity or dietary consumption. Although the increase was considered modest (1.14 kilogram), it's still a significant finding.
An interesting study on obesity and factors that affect weight loss followed 472 obese adults in a six-month intensive weight loss program. Part of the study tracked sleep amounts as well as stress levels (measured using a stress scale). The results of the study showed that those who had longer sleep times and lower stress levels at the beginning of the study had higher success in weight loss. People who reported sleeping between six to seven and seven to eight hours at the beginning had a greater chance of losing 4.5 kg more than the participants who slept 6 hours or less, and surprisingly, 8 hours or more.
The big question is, what causes the increase in fat gain in short sleepers? There are several theories that suggest sleep is important for normal hormonal function, and there may be a disruption in hormones that control appetite or metabolism in people who are chronically sleep deprived. There may be an association between sleep deprivation and increases in ghrelin (a hormone that increases appetite and affects fat and energy storage) that result in weight gain over time. In addition, people who are sleep deprived may misread fatigue signals as hunger or just lose their ability to control caloric intake when tired, but either way, sleep appears to affect how our bodies take in and store calories.
The key point is that sleep may be as important as diet and exercise in a weight loss program, and improving your quality and quantity of sleep could make a difference.
How many hours of sleep do you get per night? Do you have any tricks to get more sleep that have worked for you? Tell us!
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