The Surprising Link Between Belly Fat And Sleep
Is it true? – belly fat will increase if I don’t get enough sleep, can this be true? And if so, will sleeping more help me lose weight more quickly?
The short answer is NO. Sleeping more, on it’s own, is not going to help you lose weight.
However, strange as it might sound, there’s a growing body of evidence to show that better sleep habits are instrumental to the success of any weight loss plan.
Let me explain why…
In the last 40 years, many adults have cut their average sleep time by nearly two hours. Before bedroom tv, never ending emails and work pressures adults slept an average of 8.5 hours a night. By 2002, that had fallen to less than seven hours a night.
Over the same period, the proportion of young adults sleeping less than seven hours more than doubled. Now, less than one out of four young adults sleeps eight hours a night.
And this lack of sleep appears to have a rather damaging effect on your waistline. Here’s an extract from a recent article….
Sleeping fewer than five hours per night or more than eight hours per night was associated with higher concentrations of belly fat and increased body mass index (BMI) during the five-year study period compared with participants who slept six to seven hours per night.
Although there are a number of studies showing a link between sleep deprivation and weight gain, the one I want to take a closer look at was published in the journal Sleep.
A team from the Obesity Research Centre at Columbia analysed data on 18,000 people aged between 32 and 59 who participated in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey during the 1980s.
Even after factors such as depression, physical activity, alcohol consumption, ethnicity, level of education, age and gender had been taken into account, people were more likely to be obese the less sleep they had.
While those who had less than four hours sleep were most at risk, people who got only five hours of sleep were 50% more likely to be obese than those who were getting a full night’s rest.
“The results are somewhat counterintuitive,” says lead author Dr. James Gangwisch, “since people who sleep less are naturally burning more calories.”
“But we think it has more to do with what happens to your body when you deprive it of sleep as opposed to the amount of physical activity that you get.”
And Dr. Stephen Heymsfield, who also worked on the study, says it was not as simple as saying that if people were awake for longer, they were likely to eat more.
“The metabolic regulatory system may have evolved to motivate humans to store fat during summer months when the nights are shorter and food is plentiful, which was a survival mechanism for the body to prepare for the dark winter months when food would not be as plentiful.
“As a result, sleeping less could serve as a trigger to the body to increase food intake and store fat.”
Sleep deprivation appears to contribute to weight gain by disrupting the hormones that control your eating habits and metabolism. Specifically, sleep loss appears to have a big impact on a hormone called leptin.
One of Leptin’s main roles is to let your brain know how fat you are.
Leptin levels normally rise when you sleep. But during periods of sleep deprivation, low leptin levels tell the brain there is a shortage of food. The result is that you end up feeling VERY hungry.
In one trial, diabetes researcher Eve van Cauter and her research group investigated sleep deprivation’s effects on leptin more closely .
The study involved 11 healthy 22-year-old men who spent 16 consecutive nights in the University of Chicago’s sleep laboratory. For six days they got just four hours of sleep — their week of sleep deprivation.
The men’s food and activity levels were strictly regulated and hormone levels were taken during the day and while they slept. Their sleep was also monitored to make sure they followed the study’s guidelines.
After two nights of only four hours a night had an 19% drop in leptin. As I mentioned earlier, when leptin levels are low, hunger tends to increase.
You can see the effect on leptin in the figure below, which shows the change in leptin levels over a 24-hour period after either 4 hours or 12 hours in bed.
The volunteers also reported a surge in desire for sweets, such as candy and biscuits, salty foods such as crisps and nuts, and starchy foods such as bread and pasta. Some volunteers were asking for up to 1,000 calories more per day.
At the same time, the added difficulty of making decisions while sleepy may weaken your motivation to select more nutritious foods, making it harder to push away the doughnuts in favour of a healthy yoghurt.
“We are all under pressure to perform, in school, at work, in social and professional settings, and tempted by multiple diversions. There is a sense that you can pack in more of life by skimping on sleep. But we are finding that people tend to replace reduced sleep with added calories, and that’s not a healthy trade.
If you’re having trouble sleeping, and you’ve tried all the usual stuff like keeping your bedroom dark, avoiding caffeine in the evening, turning off the TV one hour before you go to bed, one alternative to sleeping pills (which can leave you feeling tired and groggy) is Valerian root. Reaching for Night Nurse, Cough Nurse will not help you either…
Valerian, native to the Americas, Asia, and Europe has been used for thousands of years to ease insomnia, stress-related anxiety, and nervous restlessness.
Studies also show that Valerian reduces the time it takes to fall asleep. It also seems to improve the quality of sleep itself. Unlike many prescription sleep aids, Valerian has fewer effects the next day, such as morning drowsiness.
Personally, I’ve found that 2-3 capsules of Valerian root extract (try those made by Solgar) is enough to help sleep. If you do plan to use it, make sure to check for possible interactions with medications, as well as other precautions regarding its use.
So what’s the bottom line here?
None of this means that sleeping for less than six hours each night is a guarantee that you’ll gain weight. Nor does it mean that sleeping for longer will automatically cause you to lose weight.
What it DOES mean is that a lack of sleep is going to make it a lot harder to control your appetite, especially for high carbohydrate “junk foods” like sweets, cookies, and cakes. Plus, although you might crave a stodgy porridge breakfast – and your body can deal with carbs best in the morning – is that choice going to get you where you want to be next week, next month or next year? Probably not!
And it’s your subsequent increase in calories, rather than the lack of sleep, that’s responsible for your weight gain.
Sort out your bedroom, have a relaxing bath, turn off the TV and Laptop and chill – read a novel listen to restful music for the last hour before you try to sleep.