Yup there’s a strong connection.
The May/June 2006 issue of AARP The Magazine, contained an article “Eat More Stay Thin” by Brian Good, in which he explored the 10 fat-fighting tricks of the naturally lean. It was the first time I had even been exposed to the concept that lack of sleep is connected to obesity. I was initially stunned, although over the next few years I read a lot more about this topic.
Apparently James Maas, Ph.D., professor at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, authored Power Sleep in 1991, where he reported on research involving a group of healthy men and women restricted to four hour of sleep a night. After six days the subjects’ metabolisms and hormone levels were so “out of whack” that their bodies had a hard time processing glucose in the blood, a problem common in overweight diabetics. A subsequent study looked at people who slept fewer than six hours a night. The sleep-deprived group needed to produce 30 percent more insulin on average, to process their food, a trait that predisposes people to weight gain and increases the risk of obesity over time.
USA Weekend Edition on November 26-28, 2010 reported that a small study from the University of Chicago showed dieters who slept 8.5 hours during one period and 5.5 during another lost about the same amount of weight (under 7 pounds) but when they slept more, they took off body fat as opposed to muscle mass. With less sleep time participants also felt hungrier and had higher levels of gherlin in their blood, an appetite-boosting hormone.
Maas says that fat cells produce a hormone called leptin, which helps the body keep track of how much potential energy (i.e., fat) it has stored. Leptin production peaks when you’re asleep, and that spike can be interrupted if you deprive yourself of it. This leaves your body with an unreliable measurement of how much energy it has in reserve and ultimately causes it to end up storing calories rather than burning them.
Maas also says that another drawback from not sleeping enough is that it’s easy to confuse feelings of fatigue with feelings of hunger, so you end up eating when you’re really just tired.
Then, in the July-August issue the AARP Bulletin, I found yet another research study confirming Maas’ position. In an article called “Fighting Fat: Snooze to Lose,” the magazine reported on a 16-year study of nearly 20,000 middle-aged women. The study found that those who slept five hours or less each night were more likely to gain a significant amount of weight than those who slept seven hours. The lead researcher was Sanjay Patel, M.D., of Case Western Reserve University. “Other research suggests similar finding in men,” he said. Then the Jan/Feb issue of the AARP Bulletin referenced yet another study at the University of Chicago who found dieters who slept 8.5 hours for one period and 5.5 during another lost bout th same weight of just under 7 pounds but the composition was different. When they slept more they took off body fat; when they slept less, they lost more muscle mass, which apparently lowers metabolism.
Not only that, but on February 7, 2007 while listening to ABC’s “World News Tonight,” I learned of a recent study that connected getting more sleep with reducing obesity in children aged 18 and younger. Fourteen hundred children were studied. They added one hour to their nightly sleep allowance and five years later, weighted 20% less than other children studied. It’s called the “Z” factor and might be relevant to adults, opined Professor of Medicine Eve Van Cauter of the University of Chicago.
Perhaps like me you have heard that catching up on sleep doesn’t really work. But now I’m not convinced that’s true. One Sunday in March, 2011, I was reading my Sunday paper supplement, USA Today, and read an article on obesity, sleep, and children (“These three simple lifestyle changes can lower your child’s risk of obesity”). Researchers at the University of Chicago monitored sleep patterns of 300 children ages 4 to 10 for a week and found that those with the shortest, most irregular sleep, had more than a fourfold increased risk of obesity. When they slept in on the weekends to compensate, their risk decreased.
I suppose one could joke that if we sleep longer, that is just so many more hours our mouths are shut and we can’t eat. Nonetheless, these are somewhat amazing findings to me, and I now require my waist-training students to carve out time to get at least eight hours of sound sleep as part of their training regime, and pursue ‘catch-up’ time if they can’t. I highly recommend the same to you.