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New Study Says, If You Want to Cut 300-plus Calories Per Day, Get More Sleep

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“Want to lose weight from sleeping?” What an opening! Here at AgingOptions we like to bring our readers any information that can contribute to living a longer, happier, healthier life, and this recent article from CNN by Sandee LaMotte takes the cake (figuratively, but not literally) by linking sleep and weight loss in a powerful way. 

Think weight loss has to be difficult to be effective? Think again. In fact, if this study is correct, you can even do it in your sleep!

Increased Sleep, Decreased Calories

A recent study published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine makes the startling claim that getting better, longer sleep has a direct link to losing weight. In the randomized trial, young, overweight adults who usually slept less than six and a half hours a night were asked to try and increase their sleep to eight and a half hours every night for two weeks.

LaMotte explains, “At the end of that short amount of time, many of those who did extend their sleep to a healthier length decreased their calorie intake by an average of 270 calories a day. […]  Some of the study participants cut their intake by 500 calories each day, the study found.”

A Favorable Pattern

If that doesn’t seem impressive at first, says the article, you just have to do the math. And researchers have, projecting their findings into the future. “They found that eating 270 fewer calories a day would translate to a loss of 26 pounds over three years, all by doing nothing more than getting additional sleep,” LaMotte says. That’s nearly 9 pounds per year.

The authors of the study call this “a small intervention” that can lead to a “significant impact on healthy weight.” And who among us wouldn’t want that?  Moreover, to add to the study’s credibility, it was conducted in a real-world setting—while most sleep studies are conducted in a sleep lab—and used what LaMotte calls “an objective urine test to measure calories instead of relying on people’s recall of what they ate.” This implies that the findings were not only reliable, but that similar results could be replicated by ordinary people in their ordinary lives.

Dr. Bhanuprakash Kolla, a sleep psychiatrist not involved with the study, put it this way: “[The findings] clearly showed that as you increase the amount of sleep, energy intake reduced and this in turn led to modest reductions in weight. It is likely that if this were extended, there could be more significant changes in weight.”

Sleep and Hunger – A Hormonal Link

It may seem like sleep and hunger have nothing to do with each other, but they do have a few relational links. LaMotte explains, “One reason is the impact lack of sleep has on two key hormones that control hunger and satiety: ghrelin and leptin. Ghrelin stimulates hunger and has been shown to increase with sleep deprivation. Its partner, leptin, tells us when we are full.”

Kolla adds, “Leptin has been shown to decrease with sleep restriction. Therefore when we are sleep deprived we have less of this hormone and therefore less of a brake on our appetite.”

Kristin Knutson, associate professor of sleep and preventative medicine at Northwestern University, notes that this isn’t just important information for overweight people. “Studies that observed increased appetite after sleep loss were in people who were not overweight. Getting sufficient sleep has health benefits for everyone regardless of body weight.”

Poor sleep also has an effect on our brain’s reward centers, “the spot that gives us pleasurable feelings we want to repeat,” says LaMotte. They increase in activity when we are sleep deprived, which in turn increases our desire for carbs, junk food, and just food in general.

“Then there’s the problem of insulin resistance, which increases with sleep deprivation and leads to weight gain,” LaMotte says. In fact, sugar tolerance tests on sleep-deprived people versus well-rested people show that the sleep-deprived people display signs of being pre-diabetic and insulin-resistant first thing in the morning. The link between diabetes and poor sleep is a sobering thought.

Taking the Difficulty Out of Weight Loss

The best part? The study showed that increasing sleep wasn’t really that difficult. Through sleep counseling, each individual was given a personalized plan that fit their lifestyle and limitations.

Even without individual sleep counseling, we can all follow the “sleep hygiene” tips put forth by experts. LaMotte says, “Sleep experts advise that any blue light emitting devices – smartphones, laptops and televisions, to name a few – be put away 45 minutes to an hour before bed. That’s because blue light stops the release of melatonin, the body’s sleepy time hormone.”

She adds that “Other sleep hygiene tips include sleeping in a cool bedroom (about 60 to 67 degrees Fahrenheit or 15 to 20 degrees Celsius); skipping spicy food and alcohol before bed; dampening sounds; and having a soothing bedtime ritual, which could include taking a warm bath or shower, reading a book, listening to soothing music, deep breathing, yoga, meditation, or light stretches.”

The effects of positive sleep changes happened very quickly in the study – after only the first week of the two-week study, in fact. Participants reported being more awake, alert, and energized in their daily lives. 

The Study Has a Few Shortcomings

Kolla warns that the study does have its limitations. For example, none of the participants suffered from all-too common sleep disorders, like insomnia. He says, “These are only subjects who do not have sleep disturbances but have what we would call behaviorally induced insufficient sleep. While the goal was to extend to 8.5 hours, it is quite likely that a majority of people do not require that much amount of sleep. So future work must look at participant-specific information to see who is likely to benefit from this kind of intervention.”

Regardless, he applauds the study, as do many other sleep experts. It is one building block in a road to making weight loss and healthier lifestyles more accessible to everyone. One small step can make an enormous difference in your life, and all you have to do is get a few more hours in bed!

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(originally reported at www.cnn.com)

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