A Weight Watchers Nightmare: How Lack of Sleep Provokes Weight Gain

Overweight people tend to get caught in a medley of vicious circles. The greater their bulk, the more difficult it is to for them to get about. This means they take less calorie-burning exercise. Since they have little in common with sports jocks, they tend to congregate time with their fellow couch potatoes. As a result they go with the crowd and tend to follow the same obesogenic life style. Once their get-up-and-go has got-up-and-gone, they lose their zest for life, which is liable to increase their urge to comfort eat. Even their sleep patterns are disturbed, in a way which tends to aggravate their weight problems.

Doctors have always recognized that people carrying excess weight tend to be tired and sleepy during the day. In the past they’ve thought this might be linked to the hefty fat deposits they carry around their cheek and jowls, which disturbs their sleep by provoking snoring and sleep apnoea, a condition characterized by spells when breathing stops for brief periods. A more likely explanation is that the soft tissues and fine nerve endings in the skin of heavy people are easily subjected to painful compression. This can only be relieved by regular tossing and turning, especially if they’re lying on a mattress which doesn’t give them adequate comfort and support.

With the advent of television and powerful electric lighting we’ve tended to turn night into day. As a result we sleep as much as a quarter less than our ancestors did. Surveys show that the average length of time spent in night-time sleep has fallen from nine hours in 1900 to less than seven hours over the past ten years. This is a particular problem for overweight individuals, since several studies have shown that people increase their

risk of obesity if they remain awake past midnight and sleep six or fewer hours a night. CAT scans reveal that the calories they store are mainly deposited as visceral fat, which is a particular hazard since it predisposes to cardiovascular disease. Surveys show that people who sleep less than six hours a night increase their risk of succumbing to a fatal heart attack by 48 per cent. Furthermore, when experiments were carried out in 1999, it was found that when people’s sleep was restricted to four hours a night for seven days they showed all the metabolic changes which lead to weight gain and high blood pressure. They also developed impaired glucose tolerance, which is a precursor of insulin resistance and Type 2 diabetes.

Recent research carried out in sleep laboratories has gone some way to explaining the link between weight gain and sleep deprivation. Volunteers whose sleep was artificially restricted showed a marked change in their output of appetite regulating hormones. Their blood levels of leptin, the naturally occurring chemical which suppresses appetite when our energy needs have been satisfied, fell by an average of eighteen per cent. At the same time the production of ghrelin, the hunger inducing hormone produced by the brain when it decides we need to eat more, was increased by 28 per cent. Clearly, adults who wish to adopt a healthy life style adults must make sure that they get six or seven hours of sound refreshing sleep every night. That may mean for some that a change of mattress could be as effective as a switch of diet. But don’t spend too long in cushioned comfort, for studies have shown that people who sleep in excess of eight hours a night increase their risk of putting on weight.

© Donald Norfolk 2011

(Update service: If you’d like to receive these weight reducing tips as soon as they’re posted, please visit www.selfhelpalliance.co.uk and register your interest using the contact button on the home page. You can rest assured that this service will be offered without any form of commercial advertising and that your email address will be treated in absolute confidence.)

Print This Post