Gain Sleep, Lose Weight for the New Year

Research shows poor slumber can add pounds

WEDNESDAY, Jan. 1, 2003 (HealthDayNews) -- Determined to lose weight this New Year?

Try sleeping those pounds off.

That advice may sound like it comes from a bad infomercial, but recent research suggests chronic sleep deprivation can affect the body's metabolism, which, in turn, directly affects your ability to shed those extra pounds.

Sleep deprivation is becoming an American phenomenon. The National Sleep Foundation's 2002 "Sleep in America" poll found that Americans are chronically behind in their slumber hours, with only 30 percent of adults getting eight or more hours of sleep on weeknights and only 52 percent getting their eight hours on weekends.

Many Americans may also suffer from one or more sleep disorders. The same poll found that 74 percent of respondents experienced at least one symptom of a sleep disorder a few nights per week or more. Fifty-eight percent reported experiencing at least one sign of insomnia a few nights a week.

Could this be why one source says 90 percent of Americans fail to achieve their New Year's resolutions?

Increasingly, science is suggesting the answer is "yes."

"The studies that have been done show that if people get less sleep than they should, that this would affect various components of metabolism. A number of different hormones affect metabolism and can affect appetite and therefore weight," says Dr. Michael Thorpy, director of the Sleep-Wake Disorders Center at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City. "Blood glucose tends to be higher, insulin levels lower and cortisol levels higher after sleep deprivation. There's additional evidence that the hormone leptin [secreted by fat cells] is influenced by sleep loss, and there are some studies that are . . . just coming out showing that people after sleep loss have an increase in appetite, so they eat more."

An article in the Oct. 23, 1999, issue of The Lancet found that lack of sleep had a harmful effect on carbohydrate metabolism and endocrine function. Specifically, glucose tolerance appeared to be lower in people deprived of shut-eye.

"The effect on impairing glucose tolerance is not too dissimilar to some patients who have diabetes," Thorpy says.

Another study, this one appearing in the Aug. 16, 2000, issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, found that lower amounts of REM (deep or slow-wave) sleep seemed to be associated with higher evening cortisol levels. The hormone cortisol plays a role in regulating appetite.

"When people are making resolutions to lose weight in the New Year, they ought to structure in trying to maintain sleep patterns," Thorpy says. "Improved sleep quality goes together with weight management."

Here are some tips from the National Sleep Foundation that could make your New Year's resolution an achievable one:

  • If you have difficulty sleeping at night, don't nap during the day.
  • Maintain a regular exercise schedule, but don't work out within three hours of going to bed.
  • Avoid caffeine, nicotine and alcohol in the late afternoon and evening because they can either delay or interrupt your sleep.
  • Drink fewer fluids before bedtime.
  • Avoid heavy meals before going to sleep.
  • Don't smoke.
  • Unwind in a warm bath or find some other ritual to relax you before going to bed.
  • Go to bed and wake up at regular times every day.
  • If you find yourself tossing and turning, get up and read or listen to relaxing music before trying again.

What To Do

For more on getting a good night's sleep, visit the National Sleep Foundation. Read this CNN story on the Journal of the American Medical Association study on sleep and weight gain in older men.

SOURCES: Michael Thorpy, M.D., director, Sleep-Wake Disorders Center, Montefiore Medical Center, Bronx, N.Y.; Oct. 23, 1999, The Lancet; Aug. 16, 2000, Journal of the American Medical Association
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