Eating right and exercising, but still packing on the pounds? It might not be that piece of chocolate cake from last week. But riddle me this, riddle me that, how much sleep have you been getting recently?
Your mother always told you that it was important to get eight hours a night, and new research suggests she may be right.
According to a study released last month by researchers at the University of Chicago, sleep could be a major factor in overall body health.
We already know it plays a significant role not just in regenerating energy, but also in repairing the body and fighting infection.
This most recent research suggests it may also play a vital role in the production of hormones that regulate our appetites.
Sleep deprivation can increase levels of the hunger-signaling hormone ghrelin, according to the Chicago study, while simultaneously decreasing the hormone leptin, which signals our appetite has been satiated.
The result could help to explain why shift workers like nurses and police dispatchers as well as college students and new parents often pack on unexpected and unwanted pounds.
“We know the obesity epidemic is due to overeating – too big portions, too much rich food and too little activity – but why do we crave too much of these rich foods?” asked Eve Van Cauter, one of the lead researchers in the project, in an interview with USA Today. Perhaps, she noted, “we are sleep-deprived and unable to curb our appetites.”
Van Cauter’s research, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine on Dec. 6, followed the sleep and eating habits of 12 men whose average age was 22.
On nights with just four hours of sleep, their leptin levels dropped almost 20 percent and their ghrelin levels jumped by more than a quarter.
On four-hour nights, subjects craved carbs from pasta and bread to cakes, candies and ice cream.
In similar research released last month, scientists at Stanford and the University of Wisconsin tracked the sleep habits of more than 1,000 people between the ages of 30 and 60 over the course of four years.
The hormone levels from Van Cauter’s study were again out of whack for those receiving five hours of sleep per night versus eight, and those who were sleeping less than even slightly under eight hours were still prone to higher body mass indexes than their friends who snoozed eight or more hours.
The findings could change the way nutritionists talk about dieting, but one thing is for sure.
We’re a nation in desperate need of a plan. More than 60 percent of Americans are considered obese or overweight and nearly two thirds of us aren’t getting our full eight hours according to the National Sleep Foundation.
My new weight loss plan: hit the snooze button regularly.