You already know that we are in an obesity epidemic. Most adults are above a healthy weight. This means more diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, sleep apnea, and a myriad of other health problems. People are desperate to lose weight, and physicians are desperate to help them. So if everyone’s on the same page, why is everyone getting so big?
Calories in minus calories out equals weight gained or lost. No one is immune from this law of physics. What has remained mysterious is why some people stay hungry after eating what they need. But research is starting to reveal hints, one surprising: too little sleep may be making you fat.
This seems counterintuitive. Exercise helps you lose weight. How can spending time in bed shed pounds?
It’s obvious how some differences between now and a generation ago increase obesity. You can do your job by lifting only your fingers at your computer. Almost everyone drives to his or her destination, parking in a spot as close to the door as possible. Food is always available — a vending machine down the hall, a 24-hour store on the way home, and a huge refrigerator.
But, one difference isn’t so obvious: We sleep less. In 1998, the National Sleep Foundation reported only 35 percent of us got 8 hours of sleep per night. By 2005, it was down to 26 percent. We know that lack of sleep causes many health problems, but how could it make us fat? One reason is hormones. Sleep deprivation increases ghrelin, which makes you hungry, and decreases leptin, which makes you full. Worse, sleepy people crave sweets, carbohydrates, and salty snacks.
So how can you improve your sleep? Here are some simple life changes:
- Practice good sleep hygiene. No caffeine after 2 p.m.; a regular bedtime; and a dark, comfortable room with no TV in it.
- Limit TV watching. You may believe it helps you unwind, but research shows just the opposite.
- Stop equating sleep with laziness. It’s a very rare person who needs less than 7.5 hours per night, and you may require much more. You can’t change this any more than you can change the color of your eyes, so stop fighting it.
You may find yourself becoming slimmer in the process.