A Columbia University study found that poor sleep habits were linked to obesity . It's not for nothing that one of the basic recommendations for healthy living is to sleep at least 8 hours a night!
The study analyzed data from 18,000 people between the ages of 32 and 59 who participated in a national research study in the 1980s. The analysis found that even taking into account factors like depression, physical activity , alcohol consumption, race, education level, age and gender, those who were more likely to gain weight were the ones who slept less.
According to James Gangwisch, director of the research team, the results may seem counterintuitive if you consider that people who sleep less are burning more calories. However, he highlighted the fact that lack of sleep is linked to lower levels of the hormone leptin, which regulates appetite and weight, and "tells" the brain how much available energy the body has.
Interestingly, Gangwisch suggests that the reason for this could originate in the habits of our prehistoric ancestors. "The metabolic regulatory system may have evolved to motivate humans to store fat during summer months when the nights are shorter and food is plentiful, which was a survival mechanism for the body to prepare for the dark winter months when food would not be as plentiful."
As a result, sleeping less could serve as a trigger to the body to increase food intake and store fat.
But don't be alarmed by this disturbing relationship. According to nutritionists, the elements that fight this problem--scientifically known as "Syndrome X"--are:
• A good diet
• Regular physical activity
• Avoiding anything that can disturb your sleep and cause insomnia, such as nighttime activities, so that the brain doesn't receive conflicting signals
• Treatment with the drug Orlistat which can help improve glucose intolerance and has other benefits
In a similar study at the University of Chicago, a group of 240 volunteers slept exactly 4 hours a night for 2 days, and experienced a 24% increase in appetite as well as an increased craving for sweets, french fries, dried fruit, bread and pasta. The craving for fresh fruit, green vegetables or dairy products did not increase as much.
The Chicago group pointed to the number of hours of sleep as the primary cause of increased obesity in the United States. Over the last 40 years the population of this country has lost on average two and a half hours of sleep. At the same time, the number of obese people has increased alarmingly, from only 1 in 4 overweight adults and 1 in 9 obese adults four decades ago, to 2 out of 3 overweight adults and almost 1 in 3 obese adults today.
Making sure you get enough sleep each night is as important as following a healthy diet and getting regular physical activity.
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