Loss of sleep leads to gains in weight

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Sleep. If you’re not getting enough, chances are you’re making up for it … with calories!

You can blame stress, work, your child care routine … even your smart phone or tablet for keeping you up at night. But experts warn: Too little sleep and you’ll pack on the pounds.

It’s what we should all try for -- about seven to nine hours a night according to the National Sleep Foundation. Yet about 30 percent of us don’t get nearly enough.

Dr Erin Hanlon, University of Chicago Medicine Resercher: “There’s lots of things that happen from sleep loss. Memory disturbances, cognitive dysfunction and most recently we’ve started to learn about the link between sleep loss and appetite and hunger regulation.”

University of Chicago researcher Dr Erin Hanlon says it’s all about hormones, particularly leptin and ghrelin. One tells the brain we’re not hungry; the other promotes appetite. When they’re thrown off balance by lack of sleep, we eat … more than we should and all the wrong foods. Surprisingly, there’s actual science behind the sweet and salty cravings.

Dr Hanlon: “We know from lab studies that if you take healthy, lean young individuals and you can sleep restrict them to about four and a half or four hours a night, we see an increase in not only ratings of hunger and appetite but people are actually consuming more foods.”

Sleep deprivation not only alters hormone levels, it boosts the same system targeted by THC -- the active ingredient in marijuana -- which fuels our desire for food. Even more serious, lack of sleep decreases glucose tolerance and insulin sensitivity, increasing the risk of diabetes.

Dr Hanlon: “We actually think that sleep loss and sleep deficiency is a contributing factor to the epidemic of overweight and obesity.”

Vicki Shanta Retelny, registered dietician: “Are you eating well, exercising and getting enough sleep?”

It’s so critical sleep is one of the first factors registered dietician Vicki Shanta Retelny asks about when counseling clients who need to lose weight.

Vicki Shanta Retelny: “Our brain function, our mental health, our metabolism does work on a certain amount of sleep.”

As you work to regulate your sleep, focus on your nutrition – rid your home of unhealthy snacks.

Vicki Shanta Retelny: “Think about getting the healthier fats. A little whole grain pita, some veggies, cut up cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, snap peas in hummus is a really good idea.”

And if you’re craving something sweet …

Vicki Shanta Retelny: “An ounce or two of dark chocolate is very good for your heart health and overall health because of the antioxidants, so I often ell people instead of reaching for something really sweet, choose dark chocolate.”

But skip the wine. That sleepiness you feel after a glass or two?

Vicki Shanta Retelny: “That is a false sense of tiredness, and in the middle of the night you may wake up or have wakefulness that you would not have experienced if you had not had the drink.”

Fighting back with better nutrition is a key component in warding off weight gain. But it’s important to get to the root of your sleep problems. That’s why researchers and health experts are spreading the word.

More info:

Chicago Health Magazine 

Simple Cravings Real Food Blog