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Are Poor Sleep Habits Putting You At Risk For Obesity?

Author: Ndidi Feinberg, M.D. 5 December 2011 One Comment

When my second child turned two, I realized that I was still carrying a lot of excess weight that I had acquired from “enjoying” my pregnancy. While biting into a slice of the Elmo birthday cake, I realized that I could no longer use “being a new mom” as an excuse to continue wearing those stretch waist band pants.  After that epiphany, I knew that if I was going to lose the weight, I would need to change my eating habits and exercise routinely. A major obstacle, however, was that I could only seem to fit in the exercise after the kids’ bedtime. As my children got older and fell asleep later, I had to exercise even later at night thus run the risk of losing the minimal seven hours rest that was to accompany my new healthy lifestyle. Many nights I had to choose between getting to bed and getting on the treadmill. Initially, I thought that toughing it out in the gym after 11 p.m. nightly would be worth it if I could drop an extra five pounds weekly. Unfortunately, the only things I accomplished during the late night cardio bursts were irritability and dark encircled eyes. My weight didn’t budge.  I couldn’t understand why until I did a little research on how my poor sleeping habits affected my weight.

I came to realize that in order to live a healthy lifestyle you not only need to exercise and eat right but have good sleeping habits as well. Research from NHANES I has discovered that if you get less than seven hours of sleep, you have a greater risk for obesity. More specifically, if you get six hours of sleep you have a 27 percent increased rate of obesity and five hours of sleep equates to a 73 percent increased rate.

Researchers from several studies have also identified links between sleep and the hormones that influence our eating behaviors. For instance, when we are sleep deprived, our stress hormone levels tend to rise as well as our insulin levels.  Over a period of time, this occurrence breaks down the lean muscle mass that keeps our metabolism humming. We are also too fatigued during the day to really get a good workout and are less physically active overall.

Furthermore, there are new studies on Ghrelin and Leptin interaction with sleep. Ghrelin promotes the feeling of hunger and Leptin tells the brain when it’s time to stop eating. While we sleep, these hormones should balance out. Researchers from a joint study at Stanford and the University of Wisconsin were able to measure these levels daily from volunteers with varied sleep quantities. They determined that patients who slept less than eight hours per day had the lowest levels of Leptin, the highest levels of Ghrelin, had higher levels of body fat, and weighed the most. These findings are bad news for sleep-deprived women, especially if you work the night shift  or have little ones at home waking in the middle of the night (which was worse than the night shift in my experience).

Lack of shut-eye may be even considered another risk factor for obesity. Especially since 65 percent of Americans are overweight and 63 percent of people don’t get eight hours of sleep a night. Interestingly, many of those who are overweight also don’t sleep enough.

One thing does seem to be clear: when your body is not hungry for sleep, it won’t be so hungry for food either. Obesity is a multi-factorial health concern. Thus, your sleeping habits are just an example of the many factors that we will delve into at our clinic. At Waverly Weight Loss, our goal is to target every aspect of your obesity concerns to arrive at a maintainable, healthy weight.

Additional posts by Ndidi Feinberg, M.D.

One Comment »

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