It's Not Just Baby Fat!

Straight talk on emotional eating and weight control in kids and adults

The Sleeping Diet

Can you lose weight by sleeping more?

Sleep your way to a slimmer body! Go to bed earlier, lose weight while you sleep and wake up thinner! It sounds too good to be true, and unfortunately it is, but sleep can have an effect on weight gain.

 If you’ve been to one of my workshops you know that sleep deprivation does contribute to gaining weight. Lack of sleep results in increased hunger, lower levels of leptin (the hormone associated with satiety or feeling satisfied), and increased levels of ghrelin, (a hormone associated with feeling hungry). Now, recent research offers more evidence for the link between sleep and eating.

 A 2012 review concluded that short sleep (less than six hours per night) causes “substantial and clinically significant changes in appetite regulation, hunger, food intake, glucose metabolism and blood pressure control.”  Short sleep was associated with increased likelihood of obesity and higher body mass index. The effects were more pronounced for children and adolescents (more about this later).

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 Other recent studies show that sleep deprivation causes increased eating, especially fat rich snack foods. Think about the last time you were tired during the day. If you couldn’t take a nap, what did you do? Did you reach for a snack to give yourself a “lift” with the hope that you’d have more energy after eating the snack?

 A soon-to-be published study of data from the Centers for Disease Control shows that the type of sleep complaint doesn’t matter. Regardless if the sleep deprivation resulted from difficulty falling asleep, or staying asleep, or just being sleepy during the day, the lack of sleep caused snacking.

 Although the Sleeping Diet is just a fantasy, if you’re watching your weight, paying attention to your sleep patterns can be useful. In addition to making sure that you get enough sleep – 7 to 9 hours for most adults – pay attention to the pattern of your sleep.

 You probably know what it feels like when your sleep patterns have been disrupted by jet lag. Flying through time zones can play havoc with your circadian rhythms. Changes in work schedules, sleeping late on weekends and similar changes in routine can have effects similar to jet lag. An irregular sleep pattern may contribute to weight gain. A study of 65,000 Europeans found that people who suffered from changing sleep schedules were more likely to be overweight compared with people who had more consistent sleep schedules.

 Getting enough sleep is especially difficult for teens. With puberty the adolescent’s internal clock gets set back so the “natural” bedtime is later, typically around 11 PM. Since most teens have to be in school at 8 the next morning they’re not getting enough sleep. Although there isn’t any simple solution to this dilemma, my book, It’s Not Just Baby Fat!  (http://amzn.to/UIIvkE) has a few suggestions.

 If you’re concerned about your weight, or your kid’s weight it makes sense to pay attention to sleeping patterns. By itself, sleeping more won’t produce a slender body, but getting enough sleep is something you can do to prevent unnecessary weight gain.

Edward Abramson, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist, the author of It's NOT Just Baby Fat! and Professor Emeritus of Psychology at California State University.

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