There has been a lot of study of the link between sleep and weight loss or weight gain. On the one hand, logic seems to say that sleeping too much implies a degree of laziness, which is often linked to obesity. Then there is the flip side of the coin – science has long known that not getting enough sleep can lead to a variety of health problems. New research seems to suggest that gaining weight could be one of them.
So what is the truth about sleep, dieting, and weight management?
Recently there were a number of reports that came out indicating that lack of sleep definitely is related to gaining weight. However, although the studies indicated that individuals with poor sleeping habits indeed struggled more with weight than those who reported no sleep problems, it was inconclusive if this was a “cause and effect relationship.” In other words, scientists could not definitively say if lack of sleep leads to weight gain, or it is the other known physical effects of not enough sleep — tiredness, slowed metabolism, hormone imbalances, etc. that lead to the extra pounds.
Susan Zafarlotfi, PhD, clinical director of the Institute for Sleep and Wake Disorders, says what is certain is that lack of sleep leads to a “vicious cycle,” characterized by bad decision making. Says Zafarlotfi, “lack of sleep can lead to a series of bad decisions throughout the course of the day from doughnuts at breakfast to greasy pizza, or take out for dinner, and a few sugary ‘energy drinks’ in between.” Unfortunately as she points out, “these foods end up leading to folks feeling even more tired than before.”
Two recently published studies back up what Dr. Zafarlotfi is saying. One was published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal and the other presented at the American Heart Association. Both studies confirmed that sleep deprivation leads to “hedonic stimulus” which increases your desire to make poor food choices. In the presentation at the American Heart Association, the group which slept less than 7 hours a night ate as much as 500 more calories than they would have the next day, had they gotten a full night’s sleep!
How Much is Too Much?
So what is just the right amount of sleep? It seems 7-8 hours is just what the doctor ordered. In the studies mentioned above, those who slept a little beyond 7 hours tended to function better because they felt fully rested. However, the research also found that once you sleep past 9 hours and especially 10 or more hours of sleep, the opposite sets in, and the pounds start to go up once again.
What it all comes down to is both sleeping too long and sleeping too little triggers the release of hormones which can increase the appetite and decrease the metabolism. So like Goldilocks, you need to find the amount that is “Just Right.”