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Sleep and Weight Gain

Will better sleep help you avoid extra pounds?

Understanding the Sleep-Diet Connection continued...

On average, we need about 7.5 hours of quality sleep per night, he says. “If you are getting this already, another half hour will not help you lose 10 pounds, but if you are a five-hour sleeper and start to sleep for seven hours a night, you will start dropping weight.”

Exactly how lack of sleep affects our ability to lose weight has a lot to do with our nightly hormones, explains Breus.

The two hormones that are key in this process are ghrelin and leptin. “Ghrelin is the ‘go’ hormone that tells you when to eat, and when you are sleep-deprived, you have more ghrelin,” Breus says. “Leptin is the hormone that tells you to stop eating, and when you are sleep deprived, you have less leptin.”

More ghrelin plus less leptin equals weight gain.

“You are eating more, plus your metabolism is slower when you are sleep-deprived,” Breus says.

The Sleep-Weight Loss Solution

So what can you do about sleep deprivation?

A lot, says Breus. First, look at how much you sleep vs. how well you sleep. “Some people such as new moms may only get to sleep for a four-hour stretch. And there are some people who get 7.5 hours of sleep that is poor quality because of pain or an underlying sleep disorder, and this has the same effect as if they got less sleep,” he says.

Trouble-shoot both with improved sleep hygiene, he says.

For starters, avoid any caffeine in the afternoon because it will keep you in the lighter stages of sleep -- which are associated with poor sleep -- at night. Breus recommends only decaf from 2 p.m. on. Exercise also helps improve sleep quality. How soon before bed should you exercise? It depends -- everyone is different. It’s more important that you exercise than it is when you exercise. Breus says to be safe, don’t exercise right before going to bed. “But some people exercise better before bed and it doesn’t affect their sleep,” he says.

Watch what you eat before bedtime. “Pizza and beer before bedtime is not a good idea,” says Breus. “Neither is eating a big meal close to bedtime.” He suggests eating a few healthy snacks and then having a light meal -- like a bowl of cereal -- if you’re running close to bedtime. Heavy, rich meals before bed can also increase risk of heartburn, which will certainly keep you up all night.

What if you are getting enough hours of sleep but wake up and feel sleepy the next day? “Talk to your doctor about seeing a sleep specialist,” Breus says. After conducting a thorough evaluation and sleep study, in which you are monitored while sleeping, the sleep specialist can help identify any underlying problem. Together you can develop a treatment plan so that you get more high-quality sleep -- and maybe even slim down.

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Reviewed on April 30, 2013
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