Sleep and Weight Gain

Sleep can strongly influence our eating habits and risks for weight gain.

A recent study found that sleeping just five hours per night during the course of a week, as well as having unlimited access to food caused participants to gain nearly two pounds of weight.  Researchers suggest that sufficient sleep could help battle the obesity epidemic.

Scientists were clear that extra sleep alone won’t lead to weight loss. Problems with weight gain and obesity are much more complex than that. But it could help. By incorporating healthy sleep into weight-loss and weight-maintenance programs, the study findings suggest that adequate sleep may assist people in obtaining a healthier weight.

To establish baseline measurements, study participants spent the first few days with the opportunity to sleep nine hours per night and eating meals that were controlled to give only the calories they needed to maintain their weight. After that initial period, the participants were split into two groups: one that spent five days with only five hours to sleep and one that spent five days with nine hours of sleep opportunity. In both groups, participants were offered larger meals and had access to snack options throughout the day ranging from fruit and yogurt to ice cream and potato chips. After the five-day period, the groups switched.

On average, the participants who slept for up to five hours per night burned 5 percent more energy than those who slept up to nine hours a night, but they consumed 6 percent more calories. Those getting less sleep also tended to eat smaller breakfasts but binge on after-dinner snacks. In fact, the total amount of calories consumed in evening snacks was larger than the calories that made up any individual meal.  The current findings add to the growing body of evidence showing that overeating at night may contribute to weight gain.

Previous research has shown that a lack of sleep can lead to weight gain, but the reasons for extra pounds were unclear. In this study, researchers show that, while staying awake longer requires more energy, the amount of food study participants consumed more than offset the extra calories burned. Just getting less sleep, by itself, is not going to lead to weight gain, but when people get insufficient sleep, it can lead them to eat more than they need.

Sleep can strongly influence our eating habits and risks for weight gain and can be an important therapeutic tool in losing weight and keeping it off.

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