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The Dream Diet: Losing Weight While You Sleep

Can more sleep really help us control our weight? Three top experts explore the possibilities.

Studies: Those Who Sleep Less Often Weigh More continued...

The end result: When sleep was restricted, leptin levels went down and ghrelin levels went up. Not surprisingly, the men's appetite also increased proportionally. Their desire for high carbohydrate, calorie-dense foods increased by a whopping 45%.

It was in the Stanford study, however, that the more provocative meaning of the leptin-ghrelin effect came to light. In this research -- a joint project between Stanford and the University of Wisconsin -- about 1,000 volunteers reported the number of hours they slept each night. Doctors then measured their levels of ghrelin and leptin, as well as charted their weight.

The result: Those who slept less than eight hours a night not only had lower levels of leptin and higher levels of ghrelin, but they also had a higher level of body fat. What's more, that level of body fat seemed to correlate with their sleep patterns. Specifically, those who slept the fewest hours per night weighed the most.

Eating and Sleep Apnea: The New Connection

As a result of these and other studies, researchers began to theorize that getting more sleep just might be the answer to society's burgeoning waistline. But before you trade the cost of your gym membership for a pricey new mattress, take note: Experts also say the relationship is not as obvious as it seems.

The reason: Enter the somewhat mysterious nocturnal ailment known as "obstructive sleep apnea." People with sleep apnea may stop breathing for up to a minute, sometimes hundreds of times during the night while sleeping, says Dominic Roca, MD, director of the Connecticut Center for Sleep Medicine at Stamford Hospital.

Though the exact cause of the problem remains unknown, Roca and others believe that in most instances physical abnormalities inside the mouth and neck cause the soft tissue in the rear of the throat to collapse. This briefly closes off air passages many times during a night, causing disruption in breathing and a tendency to snore.

The end result: Although you may go to bed early and think you are getting a good night's rest, the disruption in breathing prevents you from getting deep sleep. Eight hours of disrupted shut eye can leave you feeling like you had only four.

"You wake up feeling tired and continue to feel tired all day," Roca tells WebMD.

The Link Between Sleep Apnea and Weight

So what does sleep apnea have to do with weight gain?

First, says Roca, patients who suffer from sleep apnea are more likely to be obese. However, studies show they do not have the usual low leptin levels associated with being overweight. In fact, Roca says that folks with sleep apnea have uncharacteristically high levels of leptin.

What's more, when their apnea is treated, leptin levels drop -- and somehow that helps them to lose weight.

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