The Dream Diet: Losing Weight While You Sleep
Can more sleep really help us control our weight? Three top experts explore the possibilities.
The Link Between Sleep Apnea and Weight continued...
"I've had about thirty patients who, when successfully treated for their
sleep apnea were able to lose weight -- possibly because they had more energy,
so they were more active and they just ate less," says Breus.
So why does low leptin seem to cause weight gain in some folks while
allowing others to lose weight? One theory says that it may not be the level of
this hormone that matters so much as a person's individual response to it. In
much the same way that obese people can become resistant to insulin, folks with apnea may be resistant to the
fullness signal that leptin sends to the brain.
"It's like the body is trying to tell them to stop eating, but their brain
just isn't getting the message," says Breus.
Another theory: The overall response to leptin may be more individual than
we think. Experts say our environment, dietary habits, exercise
patterns, personal stress levels, and particularly
our genetics may all influence the production of leptin and ghrelin, as well as
our response to them.
The fact that we just don't know causes at least some experts to view
all the research on sleep and weight with a cautious or skeptical
"There is a serious challenge to the closing of the loop. That isn't to say
that what we know about leptin and ghrelin is not important, or that when we
finally do understand it that it won't be crystal clear -- but right now it
just isn't," Rapoport tells WebMD.
Breus agrees: "I think we are likely to find that bad sleep matters but that
it's likely to be bad sleep plus some other problems. I don't think we know
what they are yet."
Sleep: You Can't Lose
Until doctors do know more, most experts agree that if you are dieting,
logging in a few extra hours of sleep a week is not a bad idea, particularly if
you get six hours of sleep or less a night. You may just discover that you
aren't as hungry, or that you have lessened your craving for sugary,
"One thing I have seen is that once a person is not as tired, they don't
need to rely on sweet foods and high carbohydrate snacks to keep them awake --
and that automatically translates into eating fewer calories," says Breus.
If, on the other hand, you already sleep a lot, or you increase your sleep
and feel even more tired, you should talk to your doctor. Experts say you may
be one of the thousands of people with undiagnosed sleep apnea.
Says Roca: "As research continues, more and more data comes to the forefront
to suggest that you simply can't cut back on sleep without paying some