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Sleep Loss Feeds Appetite

Mixed-Up Hormones Lead to Munchies, Bigger Waistlines

Sleep Loss Affects Cravings

In the second study, 12 healthy males in their 20s were studied to see how sleep loss affected both leptin and ghrelin levels. The young men got only four hours of sleep for two nights, then two nights of 10 hours in bed (average of 9 hours of sleep). Hormone levels were measured before, during, and after the sleep periods. They also completed questionnaires to assess their hunger and desire for different foods.

After a night of four hours of sleep, sleep restriction resulted in a 24% increase in hunger and a 23% increase in appetite, reports study co-researcher Esra Tasali, MD, a sleep specialist at the University of Chicago Medical Center. "If allowed to increase their food intake, they would likely eat an extra 550 calories a day," Tasali tells WebMD, whose study appears in Annals of Internal Medicine.

As the sleepy guys got hungry, their food choices also changed. High calorie, high-carb foods were most appealing -- sweets, and salty and starchy foods -- after two nights of little sleep. Fruit, vegetables, and dairy products were at the low end of the craving scale.

"For normal, healthy, sedentary adults, that would result in significant weight gain," she says. "Of course, under laboratory conditions, they didn't have free access to food. But in real life, sleep restriction may be a previously unrecognized risk factor for this epidemic of obesity."

Today's sleep loss studies are "a good indicator of which way investigation should proceed," Satya P. Kalra, MD, professor of neuroscience at the University of Florida in Gainesville, tells WebMD.

"It's growing evidence that if you're sleep deprived, there's a human tendency to eat more -- although that hasn't yet been measured," Kalra tells WebMD.

These studies of sleep loss "are very well controlled," Kalra says. "They show we're on the right track."

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