Lack of Sleep Linked to Weight Gain

by David Grisaffi
Food intake doesn’t explain extra girth, study finds.

Getting a decent night’s sleep apparently does more than provide
good rest — it seems to curb the number of pounds women put on as they
age, according to a new study.

Although the study didn’t show a definite cause-and-effect
relationship, there was a significant link between inadequate sleep
and weight gain said lead investigator Dr. Sanjay Patel. Women who got
only five hours of sleep a night, on average, gained substantially more
weight than those who routinely had seven hour’s worth of shuteye.

“We do know that sleep-deprived people generally pay less attention
to their health,” said Patel, an assistant professor of medicine at
Case Western Reserve University, in Cleveland. However, there’s no proof
that any one factor, from a poor diet to lack of exercise, accounted for
the weight difference, he said.

In fact, women who got seven hours or more of sleep actually ate
more than those who got five hour’s sleep. And the exercise habits were
about the same, too — although the group that slept a healthier seven
hours tended to exercise a little more, Patel said.

The women were part of the Nurses Health Study, which followed more
than 68,000 women for 16 years. They were asked to report their weight
and lifestyle regimen every two years. By the end of the study, women
who slept five hours a night were 32 percent more likely to experience
major weight gain — defined as an increase of 33 pounds or more — and 15
percent more likely to become obese, compared with women who slept
seven hours. And women who slept for six hours were 12 percent more
likely to experience major weight gain and 6 percent more likely to become
obese over the study period, compared with women who slept seven hours a

There are several possible explanations for the findings, Patel
said. It could be that sleep deprivation causes the body to metabolize
calories less efficiently. Or it may be that the actual forms of exercise or
the exact patterns of eating differed between the two groups of women
in the study. It may also be that a lower number of hours spent sleeping
reflects a basic life change that can have a fairly dramatic impact
— like becoming a parent, he said.

“The more kids you have, the less sleep you get,” Patel said. That
might lead to the kind of multitasking demands in which convenience,
such as fast food, trumps nutritional vigilance, he said.

“There are many possible explanations,” agreed Dr. John Kimoff,
director of the Sleep Disorders Centre at McGill University in Montreal.
“But you have to be very careful about speculating on the mechanisms.”

One intriguing area of research has suggested that sleep
disturbances, such as deep snoring and nighttime awakenings, may affect weight,
perhaps due to a subtle inherited trait that shows increasing impact
with age.

The study findings were presented Tuesday at the American Thoracic
Society International Conference, in San Diego.

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