How Sleep Affects Your Weight

woman sleepingThere are plenty of reasons to get a good night's sleep. It can help you feel refreshed and more energetic the next day, not to mention reduce any under-eye puffiness and help your skin look better. But did you ever think that getting your full 40 winks could also help you maintain a healthy weight?
While it may seem intuitive that sleeping too much can lead to weight gain because it means more time spent being sedentary, emerging studies suggest that getting inadequate rest may also cause your waistline to expand.

Sleep and metabolism

One piece of research from Case Western Reserve University examined the effects of sleep on weight by studying more than 68,000 women between the ages of 39 and 65 over a 12-year period. The scientists reported that women who slept five hours or less each night tended to weigh about 6 pounds more than subjects who got at least seven hours of rest nightly. Moreover, participants who slept less also gained weight more rapidly than their well-rested counterparts.

Another study conducted at the University of Chicago Clinical Resource Center suggested that a lack of sleep may lead to insulin resistance, a precursor to diabetes. Scientists looked at seven people with a mean age of 23 who were of normal body weight. They discovered that subjects who slept just 4.5 hours nightly over the course of four days experienced marked reductions in their fat cells' insulin sensitivity. While this study was small and short-term, it does demonstrate how quickly inadequate rest can affect physiology.

Feeling tired may have you reaching for the carbs

Simple carbohydrates—like sugar and refined flour—will certainly give you a quick energy boost when you're feeling sluggish, hence their abundance in breakfast foods. However, this effect is temporary and often just leaves you craving more of these high-calorie, low-nutrient foods. In 2004, a team of scientists at the University of Chicago found that low levels of sleep can lead to increased cravings for carbohydrates, potentially leading to weight gain over the long term.

How to improve sleep habits

For some, it may be easier said than done to get more sleep. If you're struggling at night to fall or stay asleep, first make sure that your sleeping environment is clean, cool and used for nothing more than rest and sex. Melatonin supplements, which contain the natural hormone that regulates sleep, may also help you get a full eight hours.

If neither of these solutions work, see your health care provider to discuss your options and gauge your risk factors for chronic conditions like sleep apnea.

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