Lack of Sleep May Increase Obesity Risk


Eating and drinking is a big part of the holiday season, as most of us celebrate with large meals, including desserts, drinks, and healthy servings of seconds.  But if we are also staying up late and not getting enough sleep, a serious health consequence can be weight gain - - not only during the holiday season, but throughout the year.

"This is a significant public health issue," says Lee Brown, M.D., Executive Director of the Health Sciences Center Program in Sleep Medicine.  "Obesity has become an epidemic in this country, and so has sleep deprivation.  We now believe that these two are linked more closely than we thought."

One of the keys to the sleep deprivation-obesity relationship may be the hormone leptin, which signals when the body needs or does not need more food.  Leptin levels rise during sleep and signal a decrease in caloric need.  During periods of sleep deprivation, leptin levels are low, signaling increased caloric need and a recent University of Chicago sleep study found that a lack of sleep sets off a chain of events that can lower leptin. 

According the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 65% of Americans are overweight or obese while the National Sleep Foundation's (NSF) 2002 Sleep in America poll found almost 40 percent of adults get less than the recommended 7-9 hours of sleep on weeknights, and nearly one-quarter reported they were more likely to eat more when they didn't get enough sleep.

With the holiday season upon us, the connection between sleep and overeating becomes even more crucial.  We stay up later, eat more, and sleep less, running the risk of weight gain, obesity and sleep disorders such as apnea, a breathing disorder that can be brought on by obesity.

Holiday Tips To Avoid Overeating and Weight Gain

The NSF and the UNM Health Sciences Center Program in Sleep Medicine offer the following tips for the holidays, to avoid overeating and weight gain:

  • Get a good night's sleep.  7-9 hours is recommended for most adults for good health, safety and optimal performance.  Gauge your daytime sleepiness to determine whether the amount you are getting is sufficient.
  • Be conscious of how much you eat.  While at parties and dinners, limit your caloric intake and try not to eat more than a normal meal.
  • Make healthy meal choices.  Avoid fast foods.  Eat fish, fruits and vegetables; avoid foods high in carbohydrates or fats.
  • Get consistent exercise.  Try to work exercise into your routine, even when holiday events interfere with your schedule.  Exercise will help burn calories, and will also improve the quality of your sleep.  (Avoid exercising less than 3 hours before bedtime, so you won't have trouble going to sleep).
  • Avoid caffeine close to bedtime.  Coffee, tea, soft drinks and chocolate, for example, can keep you awake.
  • Avoid alcohol close to bedtime.  It can lead to disrupted sleep later in the night.
  • Examine your sleep schedule.  Are you getting enough sleep?  Do you wake up feeling refreshed or lethargic?  Do you wake up frequently during the night?

Contact: Cindy Foster, 272-3322

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