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Lack of Sleep Can Make You Fat

Contrary to general belief, research has repeatedly proven that a lack of sleep is associated with a greater likelihood of being obese. You would be forgiven for thinking the opposite was true. The logical assumption would be that the person spending all their extra time resting in bed should be the one who gets fat, not the person who prefers more active wake time. But the scientific research tells us a different story. A large observational study conducted in the US showed that individuals between the ages of 32 and 49 years who reported having less than seven hours sleep a night had higher average body mass indices (BMIs) and were more prone to weight gain than those who slept a full seven hours.

Then there is a meta-analysis, which collected and evaluated the findings of numerous similar studies from around the world and revealed that adults sleeping five hours or less a night had a 55% higher risk of being overweight, compared to those getting more than five hours sleep. The study found that children who didn’t get enough sleep were also at greater risk of obesity.

Is this for real? It seemingly is, but why? Not getting enough night rest may affect hormones that regulate energy balance, for instance, boosting levels of ghrelin (which stimulates hunger) and decreasing levels of leptin (which suppresses food intake). Some intriguing recent evidence suggests that there might be another reason to explain how lack of sleep can make you fat. In an experimental study of normal weight individuals, restricted sleep of four hours per night led to noticeable changes in brain activity when study participants were exposed to food stimuli. Sleep deprivation provoked a greater response to food stimuli and an enhanced awareness of the rewarding properties of food. Basically, sleep deprivation triggers the brain to make us seek out food and, therefore, eat more.

This is yet another vivid example of the complexity of the obesity problem. It would be extremely irresponsible to conclude that we can pin the obesity epidemic on to this one single factor of our modern-day lifestyles. Needless to say, there are many other factors that need to be addressed. But for the start add a good night’s sleep to help prevent weight gain.