Researchers find connection between lack of sleep and weight gain


Shortage of sleep is linked to obesity

, according to research published yesterday.

Lack of sleep boosts levels of a hormone that triggers appetite and lowers levels of a hormone that tells your body it is full according to the team. The scientists will now study whether obese people should sleep more to lose weight.

Comments (31)
  1. Aaron says:

    Surely it’s logical to assume obese people should sleep more to lose weight. Although when they are sleeping they are probably burning less calories they are also not going to be stuffing their faces with food!

  2. Haha says:

    Total crap. The research must be funded by the "tempor-pedic sleeping system". :-)

  3. asdf says:

    I think whatever hormone released would be negligible for an obese person. I’ve been around a few and IMHO what would help them is if they drank a gallon of water each day and had more small meals. The small, spaced out meals is supposed to speed up their metabolism and the gallon of water is supposed to help them flush out fat and make them feel full (ice-cold water helps you burn slightly more calories too).

    However, getting 10 hours of sleep is important because you have more REM stages compared to sleeping less hours (and it’s bad to be woken up with an alarm clock if you sleep for a certain amount of time because if you get woken up during an REM stage, you’ll feel lethargic). During REM, HGH is released which causes you to gain muscle, which burns fat. You can see the kind of research that supports this by searching for "melatonin" in the life-extension and bodybuilding newsgroups (and yes, google groups beta does suck).

  4. asdf says:

    Err, when I say more smaller meals I mean instead of say 3 meals a day with 800 calories each, eat 6 meals a day with 400 calories each.

  5. John Drake says:

    This is likely an evolutionary artifact. Where the body is regulated to eat more when there is more light during the summer months (when you sleep less) and feel less hungry during the winter months (when you sleep more).

    It would not surprise me if this was part of the mechanism used by animals which hibernate, to gorge themselves during the summer months.

    BTW, consuming copious amounts of water can cause electrolyte imbalance, leading to such things as headaches or even death.

    The problem with all these research is that they tend to focus on one specific aspect, rather than trying to tie everything together. The short story should always be: "A healthy life stlye goes a long way to a healthy life."

    John

  6. To "tie everything together", you still need "things to tie together"; assuming, of course, that one person’s "healthy lifestyle" isn’t another person’s "total misery".

  7. Marc says:

    Some people may try to compensate for that tired, sleepy, low energy feeling by overeating. A sugar fix may help them get through the day without sleep.

  8. John Drake says:

    @Joshua Schaeffer:

    I don’t deny that you have to have things in order to be able to tie them together. I I was really trying to gripe about the fact that people tend to latch onto one thing to the seeming exclusion of all others.

    @Marc

    Increasing your sugar intake will cause your insulin levels to rise, which will cause you to get sleepy. Just think how you feel after over indulging in a all you can eat pasta meal. So a sugar fix doesn’t work.

    John

  9. Another John says:

    I just can’t believe Raymond hard coded the quote from the article into his blog entry, for shame!

  10. jemnery says:

    I completely agree with the point about hormone release being a negligble contributing factor.

    When will people stop faffing about with spurious research and fad diets, and accept that the only thing that matters is the balance of calories (balance as in bank balance)?

    If you burn more calories (exercise, people!) than you consume, you’ll lose weight. The other way round, and you get fat. Get the balance about right and your weight is stable.

    That’s all there is to it.

  11. Matt Green says:

    I don’t think anyone is ever going to let the guy who complained about hardcoded paths in example code forget about it. :)

  12. Ramanan Sivan says:

    Hard to believe. I suffer from insomnia and in my treatments have visited specialists and taken group therapy. Most people with sleep disorders are tired and thin, not fat.

  13. Jay Lauffer says:

    I live with a researcher whose PhD is in physiology, she rants (really literally rants) about how bad the media is because of the ways they misrepresent science and research. I have a few friends who are overweight, I don’t really know what to say about it, I’ve never noticed them eating anymore than I do. I think mostly just go for a walk. Eventually someone will discover obesity is a mutation or some such which was encouraged by some food additive that the mother consumed during pregnancy then Kraft foods will go under in a wave of law suits and scientist will start researching people who don’t grow facial hair.

    Completely off topic: what about a .blog domain extension? (surely the idea is being circulated).

  14. Greg says:

    @jemnery

    >When will people stop faffing about with spurious research and fad diets, and accept that the only thing that matters is the balance of calories (balance as in bank balance)?

    Absolute rot! That’s like assuming that the body is as simple as a combustion engine. In reality there are all sorts of factors, ie. too little water and metabolism slows, too few calories and the body takes action against starvation including slowing the metabolism. A similar effect is seen when eating a very high-carb diet. Further its not anthropologically correct to eat a high-carb diet. Even modern hunter-gatherers, of which are are about 200 existing groups, eat lower-carb diets (average range between 20 to 40% of calories) with some eating close to zero (traditional Intuits).

    Our ancient ancestors almost certainly ate less carbs since most modern high-carb sources, including plump, sweet fruits and grains and potatoes, have been breed into existence by our jolly selves.

  15. Mat Hall says:

    "Most people with sleep disorders are tired and thin, not fat."

    I have pretty bad bouts of insomnia from time to time, and (apart from a little middle-age spread) I’m thin. I also probably eat more than I should — there’s not a heck of a lot else to do at 4 in the morning. :)

    "I don’t think anyone is ever going to let the guy who complained about hardcoded paths in example code forget about it. :)"

    I. WAS. NOT. COMPLAINING! :)

    However, in the spirit of the thing it’s probably better to link to a copy on archive.org or the Google cache as online news articles tend to have a short shelf life.

    [ Runs for cover… ]

  16. John Drake:

    > So a sugar fix doesn’t work.

    Sure it does. The trick is to keep adding sugar to your system – tea or coffee with sugar takes that role for a lot of people. You stop drinking the regular drinks when you go to sleep – at which point you let your blood sugar crash.

    The trick is to watch your blood sugar levels and add appropriately – or avoid extra sugar and high glycemic index foods altogether (i.e. eat a diet suitable for diabetics).

    Certainly when I find myself feeling tired, sugar perks me up much better than anything else. Works quite well for a long time too.

    Ramanan Sivan wrote:

    > I suffer from insomnia and in my treatments

    > have visited specialists and taken group

    > therapy. Most people with sleep disorders

    > are tired and thin, not fat.

    However, most people with sleep apnea are tired and fat, not thin. They also sleep much longer than those with insomnia – but the quality of sleep is awful. They also tend to have higher incidences of heart disease and anxiety attacks.

    Insomnia isn’t the only sleep disorder. And the article is misleading; it’s lack of quality sleep, not lack of sleep period.

    jemnery and asdf wrote:

    [that the hormone doesn’t make a difference, and frankly, it’s probably just calories and all that stuff]

    Erm… you guys don’t know what leptin is, do you?

    Fat cells aren’t just storage units that the body pumps calories into. They’re living, breathing, communicating cells. Fat is an organ, like skin or your liver.

    Like other cells, they’re regulated by hormones.

    Leptin regulates this storage mechanism and provides the feedback system necessary to control fat metabolism and storage by those cells.

    If the leptin mechanism is screwed up, your fat system will be off, and you’ll put on weight.

    There is no fad diet in this. It’s all about causation. If there are environmental factors for obesity, you need to eliminate them. And like optimizing code, you need to measure first to know what to change.

    Wouldn’t you feel silly if you spent all your life eating 1000 calories and jogging 5 miles a day, only to realize that you could have had a much more healthy and easy life if you got more sleep?

    Similarly, if you were diagnosed with carpal tunnel and lived with the pain of it for years, wouldn’t you feel silly if someone came along and said "Hey, I noticed that you have a cyst in your armpit…", it was removed, and all of the symptoms went away?*

    The most obvious cause is not always the real reason behind these things.

    [* I had a similar problem a while back… exact symptoms of carpal tunnel… but it was a lump in my armpit. The artery and nerve that run into your arm go quite close to the surface there, and it’s a soft tissue area, so a cyst or lump or even a boil in the wrong place can put pressure on that whole system. Because there’s not much room in there, this compresses the nerve – and because it carries pain signals for the entire length of your arm, the most common result is the feel of "carpal tunnel" pains. If you can get rid of your carpal tunnel pains by applying a warm compress to your armpit, you probably don’t really have carpal tunnel, and it was misdiagnosed.]

  17. Chip H. says:

    Look, if you’re 100 pounds overweight, sleeping in in the mornings will not do much for you.

    I have noticed, however, that since we went into crunch mode at work I’ve gained 5 pounds. Is it less sleep? (maybe) Stress? (probably more likely).

  18. Michael J. says:

    Lack of sleep boosts levels of a hormone that

    > triggers appetite and lowers levels of a

    > hormone that tells your body it is full

    > according to the team.

    How’s that related to obesity?

    > I have pretty bad bouts of insomnia from time

    > to time, and (apart from a little middle-age

    > spread) I’m thin. I also probably eat more

    > than I should — there’s not a heck of a lot

    > else to do at 4 in the morning. :)

    Yep, same here. But at 4 I usually manage to geet asleep after couple of beers before ;-)

    > The scientists will now study whether obese

    > people should sleep more to lose weight.

    Aha, they should sleep more, work less, do not walk or God forbid, run and of course, should be able to get two seats in the plane to fit their ass for the price of one. Rrright.

  19. jemnery says:

    @Greg:

    >"That’s like assuming that the body is as simple as a combustion engine"

    I don’t assume that the /body/ is that simple. But I do think the single biggest factor in weight gain is energy in vs. energy out – a simple equation.

    @Greg:

    >"too little water and metabolism slows, too few calories and the body takes action against starvation including slowing the metabolism"

    I don’t think this disproves my argument, in fact it seems to support it.

    @Greg:

    >"Further its not anthropologically correct to eat a high-carb diet."

    I agree. High carbs = a high energy diet, and if you don’t burn that energy you get fat. I do think that Atkins is complete b*ll*cks, (and dangerous), however.

  20. Jemnery wrote:

    > I do think that Atkins is complete b*ll*cks,

    > (and dangerous), however.

    It’s dangerous – you certainly don’t want to do it for a long time or if you have certain medical conditions – but it certainly does work.

    Whether it’s good for your long term cardiovascular health etc. is another matter.

  21. Kelli Zielinski says:

    I don’t eat much in the summer but eat like crazy in the winter. Hrm, I wonder if that’s because I don’t sleep well in the winter. Maybe I’m compensating? Hrm. Interesting! Some thoughts, anyway.

    As for letting the blood sugar crash, the problem with keeping it up all day is that when it comes down, it also causes disturbances in your sleep patterns. It’s one reason why it’s not a great idea to eat high GI carbs just before bed (says she who ate a brownie after dinner, sigh…). The blood sugar spikes then drops, and both will disrupt sleep.

    Whoo, I know what leptin is! ;) I have to do refeeds all the time when I’m dieting. Otherwise, I get stuck with fat loss.

    Chip, with the gaining, it might also be that you have less time to be active and are eating more. I know when I’m stressed I’m more likely to eat because I’m often distracted.

    >How’s that related to obesity?

    Because if your appetite goes up and you don’t know you’re full as easily, you’ll eat more, thus gain more weight.

    I want a shirt that says, "I lost 50 lbs and I eat bread"…

  22. Ben Hutchings says:

    An engineer friend of mine is working on calibrating MRI scanners so that the output can be used to measure some aspects of tissue make-up rather than just showing different kinds of tissue. One of the applications of this is in studying fat build-up in the liver (which is very unhealthy). He told me there’s been an experiment in which involved putting people on the "Atkins" diet briefly in order to induce ketosis, and apparently this tended to reduce fat levels in the liver within a few weeks. So it looks like it does have some use even if it’s not so good in the long term. But note that this is all word-of-mouth, not published and reviewed research as yet.

  23. Mat Hall says:

    I was given to understand that the reason Atkins worked is that high-protein food makes you feel full more readily than if you eat carbs, so although you are "allowed" to eat as much as you like your calorie intake actually drops because your hunger is satisfied more quickly.

    Either way, though, stuffing your face full of greasy food can’t be good for you in the long term, especially if you were fat to start with…

  24. Michael J. says:

    >How’s that related to obesity?

    >Because if your appetite goes up and you don’t

    >know you’re full as easily, you’ll eat more,

    >thus gain more weight.

    Um, let me rephrase it: do people have input only, or they do have output as well? The excessive food is supposed to be withdrawn from the body. Food cannot be absorbed fully. Or maybe it is just my body, which throws out all stuff which it thinks is not needed. I never starved, never was on diet, so my body knows that it does not have to absorb for future hardships, it always gets food when it needs it.

    And do not forget that body uses energy to break food into pieces which can be absorbed. Actually, it takes more to break fat than the energy that fat provides. If you want to get more energy from fat, have it with alcohol :) One shot before dinner and there you go. I am not sure that this is good for weight though… And this is definetely not good for liver in the long term. But look at French people, they drink red wine and eat fatty meals, but they are not obese en masse.

  25. PTrieu says:

    It’s obvious that sleep helps you lose weight, take bears for example: they are awake all summer/fall and gain lots of weight, and sleep *hella* in the winter and arise thin and hungry.

    :-)

    That said, I wish I was a bear and could sleep through the winter.

    The human body is immensely complex (e.g. pH variences of just .1 in body fluid or so have drastic effects), to correlate weight gain directly with sleep is somewhat ridiculous.

  26. Kelli Zielinski says:

    Mat, that’s exactly why Atkins works. It’s not a great diet, but it *will* drop pounds quickly (which isn’t healthy either, but I’ll get to that in a sec). Someone who is morbidly obese, however, might be able to get away with it and quickly drop the pounds, because that’s probably better than the alternative of staying way overweight. Then, a person can always shift to a more normalized diet later.

    >Um, let me rephrase it: do people have input only, or >they do have output as well?

    Well, in terms of food, yes, some stuff is eliminated as waste. But really, the calories are burned either way. Every calorie you take in has to go *somewhere* in the body. Either it’s used for fuel, or it’s used to put on more body mass – either lean mass, or as fat.

    Alcohol isn’t necessary bad – it’s just the excess consumption adds up in terms of calories.

    >I never starved, never was on diet, so my body knows that >it does not have to absorb for future hardships, it >always gets food when it needs it.

    It depends on what you eat, too – if you overeat, your body will have to do *something* with those calories. So, if you’ve always eaten within reason, your body probably just stays at a nice comfortable spot.

    >That said, I wish I was a bear and could sleep through

    >the winter.

    Ooohhh yeah. I hear you here. It’s dark. Time for sleepy time. I think the only thing keeping me sane is the natural spectrum lights in my office. Especially *this* week…

  27. Michael J. says:

    > Every calorie you take in has to go

    > *somewhere* in the body.

    Nope. It can simply radiate into the outer space.

    > Either it’s used for fuel,

    Why would the body convert energy back into fuel?

    > or it’s used to put on more body mass –

    > either lean mass, or as fat.

    You cannot build something with energy only, you need construction material.

    Anyway, my point was, that if the body does not need fuel, it throws it away. Or, excessive fuel can just burn and heat the Universe. You cannot gain weight from calories (or Joules for us Europeans) only. If you could, then each hot bath would get you fatter. The calorie-based diet is a stupid thing.

    Disclaimer: I am not a doctor nor a biochemist ;)

  28. Kelli Zielinski says:

    Here’s some sites that can explain better that I, maybe it’ll help you understand how the process works:

    http://www.globalhealthandfitness.com/calories.htm

    http://health.howstuffworks.com/calorie1.htm

  29. icelava says:

    I suffer from insomnia. Sleep little. My appetite has shrunk. End.

  30. devin says:

    Ok. The main problem with this report (on the guardian site) is the lack of a link to the paper or scientific discussion (by said researchers, qualified statisticians, members of the medical field, etc). That said, here’s some alternatives to consider:

    An earlier study (made within the last couple years) pointed out that older people sleep fewer hours. Another study indicated that the fewer hours avg someone sleeps, the longer they tend to live. Given these two findings, it’s conceivable that this new "study" is actually just seeing the same effect; in an unhealthy population consuming a bad diet, the longer a person lives, the more likely they are to gain weight. Again, with all three of these articles no convincing effort is made to delineate correlation from causation.

    The humourous version of this is to check out "super size me" or http://pepsispice.blogspot.com/. That dude’s gained something like 40 pounds (and numerous ailments) just by replacing all beverages with pepsi spice.

    Given that such a ludicrous change in diet can cause the pounds to accumulate, what about the following: consuming large volumes of caffeinated products is bad for health, causing you to gain weight and sleep more poorly.

    An additional possibility is the existence of a previously un-mentioned factor to cause the various phenomena (hormonal change, diet/appetite change, weight gain, shortened sleep cycle) all at once or in a chain reaction.

    I’m not not saying that any of the above possibilities are neccessarily more likely than the claims made by the article, but that the article is thuroughly unconvincing when it comes to differentiating between correlation and causation.

    -d

  31. Bill says:

    "Good sleep, healthy eating habits, and regular exercise each may have important roles in fighting obesity in modern society," said Prof Mignot.

    This is new news? If we ever, as human beings, discover all the reasons we get fat and stay fat, we’re probably going to to be too busy stuffing our faces at MacDonald’s to notice.

    This research sounds tailor made for anyone who needs yet another reason to explain why they can’t lose weight no matter what they’ve tried.

    If the next research project does show a direct link between getting more sleep and losing weight.. I can’t wait for the company’s who market sleeping pills, mattresses, pillows, John Tesh CD’s, etc. to claim that not only will you fall asleep faster and sleep longer you’ll also wake up thinner.

    For the large majority of people the formula to lose weight is simple –

    Eat fewer calories of the right types of food then the number of calories that you use up each day, and use up some of those calories exercising on a regular basis.

    I think it’s too simple of an idea because or it’s simply to difficult for people to get motivated enough to try and stick with exercising and keeping track of what they eat.

    Research studies like this will be quoted out of context and someone will come along to try to exploit it to sell some new magical, miracle, you don’t have to work at it, new and improved "pill/diet/hormone/brainwashing/hypnosis/food/therapy" thingy.

    Of course, being one of the lazy and unmotivated one’s I’ll probably be at the front of the line to buy it.

    -B

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