Research Links Sleep Loss to Obesity

We all know that a good night’s sleep is one of the keys to good health, but conversely, recent  research suggests that getting too little sleep can lead to a growing health concern:  weight gain and obesity.

Given the current tendency of many populations worldwide (especially in the U.S.) to not get enough sleep because of such factors as work, stress, and distractions related to TV, the internet, cell phones, video games and other outlets, studies indicate, our rate  of sleep loss is increasing.

For example, research by the National Sleep Foundation in the U.S. found that Americans get an average of about 6.7 hours of sleep during a weekday, and that the percentage of Americans sleeping fewer than 6 hours a night increased from 12 percent in 1998 to 20 percent in 2009.  In addition, research presented at the annual meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies in 2010 indicated that 19.5 percent of Americans generally complain of excessive sleepiness, while 15 percent of Europeans generally had similar complaints as well.

A review of recent research by Harvard University’s School of Public Health sheds light on how  sleep deprivation might lead to chronic weight gain and obesity – two health problems which have doubled worldwide among adults since 1980, and are now a growing problem among children. Chronic sleep deprivation is shown to increase how much food they eat, or decrease the energy that they burn.

The review by Harvard reports that sleep loss may:

  • Increase hunger: Sleeplessness can alter the hormones that control hunger. One small study, for example, found that young men who were deprived of sleep had higher levels of the appetite-stimulating hormone ghrelin and lower levels of the satiety-inducing hormone leptin, with a corresponding increase in hunger and appetite—especially for foods rich in fat and carbohydrates.
  • Prompt people to eat more frequently: People who sleep less each night may eat more than people who get a full night’s sleep simply because they have more waking time available.
  • Prompt people to choose less healthful diets: One study of Japanese workers found find that workers who slept fewer than six hours a night were more likely to eat out, have irregular meal patterns, and snack more than those who slept more than six hours.
  • Lead to a decrease in physical activity: People who don’t get enough sleep are more tired during the day, and as a result, may curb their physical activity. Some studies have found that sleep-deprived people tend to spend more time watching TV, less time playing organized sports, and less time being physically active than people who get enough sleep.

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