Hitting the Sack

February 12, 2013 in Diabetes, Fitness, Health, Weight Management by Joyce Bunderson

By now, most everyone knows that sleep deprivation interferes with hunger and satiety hormones crucial to regulating appetite.  Perhaps you know some night owls who are also plump owls. We envision them mindlessly snacking their way through fatigue to keep going. Research has gone deeper than the snacking, and revealed a chain of hormonal effects through which sleep deprivation can lead to overeating. But what about the reverse? Can poor eating habits keep you from getting a good night’s sleep?

Michael A. Grandner is the lead researcher of a group out of the Center for Sleep and Circadian Neurobiology and the Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania. He published a study in Appetite, which compared the dietary nutrients associated with short and long sleep duration.

The researchers found that the majority of habitually short sleepers (5-6 hours) typically consumed the most calories, followed by habitually normal sleepers (7-8 hours), next the very short sleepers (less than 5 hours). By contrast, habitually long sleepers (9+ hours) consumed the least calories. A couple of other interesting correlations were found: The normal sleepers showed the highest food variety and the very short sleepers had the least variation in what they ate. Don’t forget from our past articles, a varied diet is often a marker for good health (multiple sources of nutrients.) Many other correlations in nutrients were discovered and you can read about them in the January 19, 2013 Appetite article.

Grandner, the lead researcher, regards this study as opening up a new area.  He is quoted by Alexandra Sifferlin, who writes for Time Magazine, as saying; “It was like, ‘no one has ever entered this country before, let’s go in and take some pictures.” Grandner and his colleagues did indeed take some pictures that have drawn renewed attention to this domain of study. These pictures have in turn opened a door to an initial realization of the importance of this area of research, and prompted many new questions. Sifferlin quotes Grandner at the end of her article about the social change in regard for sleep, and how slow it is in coming. It’s certainly worth repeating here.

“It reminds people that we have come to the point in our society where we recognize that our diet is important to our health. We don’t always act on it, but we recognize it,” says Grandner. “We haven’t come there with sleep yet. People don’t brag about how much they eat anymore, we used to, but we don’t anymore, but we still show off about how little sleep we get.

Surely there is a lot more to learn about sleep. Unquestionably sleep is far more important to healthy weight and other aspects of health than we ever imagined.  If we don’t move any further ahead in our understanding of the importance of sleep right now than just this little bit of knowledge then we’ve made some good progress. Grandner, et.al. remind us of the significance of sleep in the introduction to their report by summarizing the problems linked with sleep deficits. There are a lot of known consequences of sleep deprivation.  These include: weight gain and obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, psychiatric illness, and performance deficits. In addition, excessively long sleep duration is also associated with poor physical and mental health. So it’s worth our efforts in our pursuit of good health to pay close attention to the quality and duration of our sleep.

Yes, we know that sleep is a very important aspect of health. It is a time when many hormones and neurochemicals are released, including those involved in hunger vs. feeling satisfied. The body repairs itself, and secures memories. Growth hormone is released. All these functions can be impacted by a sleep deficit. Until the researchers learn more about the exact mechanisms of the relationships of weight and sleep, we can for now begin more fully to appreciate that the two are entwined. If we desire optimal health, including protecting against weight gain, we should do our best to get a normal number of hours of sleep – hit the sack!