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Sleep Deprivation -- A Link to Obesity?

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One more reason to get a good night’s sleep: a recent study shows that people who sleep the least weigh the most.

Unfortunately, more and more Americans suffer from chronic sleep deprivation, with over one third of American adults now sleeping less than seven hours each night. Getting less than the recommended seven to nine hours of sleep a night can lead to poor concentration, raise the risk of colds and other infections and leave you feeling worn out and easily irritated. Now research has uncovered an association between chronic sleep deprivation and obesity. Whether sleeping more can help protect people against weight gain and obesity, however, is not yet clear.

Does less sleep=more weight?

Obesity rates have risen sharply in the United States in the last 20 years. This increase in obesity is a cause for concern because being overweight contributes to many medical disorders, including diabetes, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, stroke, cancer and osteoarthritis. The rising tide of obesity has been attributed to poor eating habits, the wide availability of high-fat foods, watching too much television and a sharp decline in physical activity. Several recent studies have raised the question of whether sleep deprivation should be added to this list.

In a study involving 924 participants between the ages of 18 and 91, reported in the Archives of Internal Medicine, researchers found that people who slept the least weighed the most. Another recent study analyzed data on about 18,000 adults who participated in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. Compared with people who got seven to nine hours of rest each night, people who regularly slept less than four hours nightly were 73 percent more likely to suffer from obesity.

One hypothesis is that shorter sleep duration is linked with imbalances in two hormones, leptin and ghrelin. Leptin is produced by fat cells and tells the brain when to stop eating, while ghrelin, which is produced by the stomach, triggers hunger. Leptin levels decline while ghrelin levels rise in people who are not getting enough sleep. But no studies thus far have suggested that how much you sleep has a direct impact on whether you lose or gain weight.

The bottom line on the link between obesity and sleep deprivation

“The association between inadequate sleep and obesity is undeniable, but whether there is a cause-and-effect relationship is dubious,” observes Lawrence J. Cheskin, M.D., Director of the Johns Hopkins Weight Management Center. Sleep deprivation may be the consequence, rather than the cause, of obesity. Sleep apnea, for example, may be a potential confounding factor because it is more common among people who are obese and can itself lead to poor sleep and sleep deprivation.


Posted in Nutrition and Weight Control on October 12, 2006
Reviewed June 2011

Medical Disclaimer: This information is not intended to substitute for the advice of a physician. Click here for additional information: Health After 50 Disclaimer

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