Sleep Helps Stave Off Holiday Weight Gain

By Racheli Hibben, Epoch Times
April 25, 2014 1:32 pm Last Updated: April 25, 2014 1:32 pm

Moving out from the holiday season with all those yummy cookies, candies, and other sweet treats within easy reach, experience tells us we’d probably packed on a few extra pounds.

As many avid dieters will tell you, it’s much easier to put it on than to take it off.

Many studies over the years have linked sleep deprivation to weight gain. The Annals of Internal Medicine published a study advising those trying to lose weight to sleep more. The study found that dieters who slept less lost only lean muscle tissue, while those whose sleep was not restricted, lost the same amount of weight, but half of it was fat tissue, and the other half was lean muscle tissue.

But don’t be fooled into thinking you can just sleep the weight off. While researchers from Brigham Young University have found that keeping a regular sleep pattern can help reduce body fat, their study also found that getting less than 6.5 or more than 8.5 hours of sleep each night was also linked to higher body fat. So controlling your hours of sleep within this range is a positive step toward a healthier body composition.

But why exactly do we see increased body weight with fewer hours of sleep? One theory suggests that it’s due to hormones. Ghrelin, the hormone that stimulates appetite increases when you are sleep-deprived, and leptin, the hormone that lets you know when you are full, decreases with lack of sleep.

Sleep and Decision Making

It makes sense then that we would eat more when we’re tired, but it’s not that the body actually needs this extra food, as once thought. As Dr. Wright, at the University of Colorado Boulder explained to the New York Times, even when the energy needs of the body have been met, the brain still signals for more. So what is really going on in the sleep-deprived brain?

A study published earlier this year in the journal Nature Communications revealed insightful results. While making food choices, subjects that were deprived of sleep were found to show increased activity in the amygdala, an area of the brain that helps regulate, among other things, our desire for food.

A variety of food choices were offered, but subjects were found to have a stronger preference toward the high-calorie options, such as desserts, chocolates, and potato chips.

Plus, activity in the cortical area of the frontal lobe, which regulates decision making, was found to have significantly reduced activity during decision making in sleep-deprived persons.

So while faced with increased desire for food, our ability to make thoughtful decisions as to what to eat is impaired—a recipe for disaster during the often hectic holiday season.

So getting a regular six to eight hours of sleep each night is the best way to start a happy spring and summer season, and as always recommended, try to engage in daily physical activity. Not only will it help burn any extra calories consumed, but it can also improve sleep, which in turn helps your body maintain a healthy weight.

*Image of “sleeping girl” via Shutterstock