To sleep, perchance to diet

IF YOU'RE a poor sleeper, and you can't seem to lose weight, the answer may be more obvious than you think.

While many people who don't get enough shut-eye berate themselves for their lack of control when it comes to food, in fact their insomnia could be to blame for those sneaky grams stacking on, says Dr Carmel Harrington.

Her new book The Sleep Diet: Why sleeping well is the missing link to permanent weight loss, has been getting plenty of airplay in the last week.

Maybe that's because it offers dieters the news they have been waiting for: that stubborn weight gain may not be all your fault.

"There is now conclusive proof of a link between lack of sleep, weight gain and obesity," writes Dr Harrington.

"It is now evident that if you don't take sleep seriously and do not get the sleep you need, you are more likely to put on weight, less likely to lose weight, more likely to develop Type 2 diabetes, more prone to depression and more likely to die younger than those people who do get a good night's sleep.

"So, far from being something we do when we have completed all other tasks, sleep should be at the forefront of our consideration as it is absolutely fundamental to our good health."

Part of the problem with not getting enough sleep, it seems, is that it throws our hormones and appetite out of whack.

Dr David Rapoport, associate professor and director of the Sleep Medicine Program at the New York University School of Medicine, says that while doctors have long known that many hormones are affected by sleep, it wasnt until recently that appetite entered the picture.

What brought it into focus, he says, was research on the hormones leptin and ghrelin.

Both can influence our appetite and production of them may be influenced by how much or how little we sleep.

Apparently these two hormones work in a kind of checks and balance system to control feelings of hunger and fullness. Ghrelin, which is produced in the gastrointestinal tract, stimulates appetite, while leptin, produced in fat cells, sends a signal to the brain when you are full.

But too little sleep drives leptin levels down and causes ghrelin levels to rise.

Dr Harrington says that, over the last 40 years, the amount we sleep has significantly decreased and on average we now sleep 1.5 to 2 hours less than our grandparents did.

Over this same period of time there has been a dramatic increase in obesity.

She adds that, as well as a lack of sleep affecting hormones, when we don't get enough sleep our metabolic rate slows down and we don't burn fat as readily.

Dr Harrington's book offers a personal sleep program to help you change your sleeping habits, patterns and, hopefully, weight.


Tips for a good night's sleep

  • Maintain a regular bedtime and awakening time
  • Do not nap during the day
  • Avoid alcohol
  • Avoid caffeinated beverages after noon
  • Do not smoke before bedtime
  • Do exercise, but not within three hours of bedtime
  • Finish eating 2-3 hours before bedtime
  • Adopt a going-to-bed routine
  • Do not use the bedroom for anything other than sleep and sex
  • Keep the bedroom cool, dark and quiet

Credit: The Sleep Diet, Dr Carmel Harrington


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