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August 15, 2016
IT’S NO SECRET that many Americans struggle with maintaining a healthy body weight. The National Institute of Health reports that more than two-thirds of adults fall into the overweight or obese range on the body-mass index.
The reasons for this epidemic in our society are myriad and complex. Partly to blame is the frantic pace of modern life. Long work hours and overstuffed schedules can make it hard to prioritize healthy choices. Often, when faced with not having enough hours in the day to get everything done, people choose to sacrifice sleep.
But growing evidence suggests that the recommended seven to eight hours of sleep per night is critical to our overall well-being, and may even be linked to weight.
Although the body is still burning calories while we doze, sleep doesn’t directly lead to weight loss. It would be great if we could just snooze our way to the perfect beach body, but unfortunately, that’s not how it works. It’s more accurate to say that inadequate sleep causes weight gain.
One reason is that the low energy levels associated with poor sleep make it hard to get enough physical activity. When you’re exhausted, it’s way too tempting to skip the gym and use your free time to veg out in front of the TV instead. There are several other possible explanations for the connection between sleep and weight loss, or why lack of sleep leads to weight gain.
The Mayo Clinic reports that not getting enough sleep per night could make weight gain more likely. A study found that women who slept less than six hours per night gained 11 pounds during the research period, while women who slept seven hours per night did not. Men are not immune to the effects of inadequate sleep, though more studies have been performed on female groups.
The first reason that sleep deprivation may contribute to weight gain is physiological. Two hormones, called ghrelin and leptin, stimulate appetite and contribute to whether we feel hungry or satisfied. Researchers believe that sleep cycles may affect ghrelin and leptin production. If you don’t get enough sleep, you may feel hungrier and tend to overeat.
Other reasons for sleep-related weight gain are the effects that inadequate sleep has on human behavior. Studies have also shown that sleep deprivation increases our propensity to consume high-calorie foods. While there may be biological underpinnings for this drive, it could simply be about convenience. Scarfing down junk food when you’re tired is easier than preparing a healthy meal. This is especially true for people who consistently feel strapped for time. Many people also reach for sugary snacks to combat exhaustion, believing the “sugar high” will help them power through the lethargy.
There’s also a connection between too much sleep and weight gain: sleeping too long can cause weight gain on par with not getting enough sleep. A recent study found that women who slept for more than nine hours per night were just as likely to gain weight as those who slept less than five hours per night. The sweet spot for maintaining healthy weight seems to be seven to eight hours of uninterrupted sleep per night, which is in line with most medical recommendations.