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Sleep your way to weight loss

WebMD Feature
Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks

Do you dream of losing weight? Well a good sleep may be the best recipe for success. Getting enough shut-eye can actually help you lose weight. When you are sleep deprived the opposite happens and you may find yourself putting on the pounds.

It seems to be down to changing hormones and different eating habits.

Hungry hormones

Too little sleep can play havoc with our hormones, including two called ghrelin and leptin.

Dr Malcolm von Schantz from the University of Surrey Sleep Research Centre says: "It has been shown that sleep deprivation suppresses leptin, the hormone that signals satiety, and increases the levels of ghrelin, the hormone that signals hunger. In other words, not sleeping enough increases food cravings, suggesting a direct mechanism that explains the epidemiological data."

So it's not surprising that too few zzzs can lead to piling on the pounds.

Bad habits

A lack of sleep may also have you reaching for junk food. Tiredness hampers the brain's ability to make sensible choices about food, so you may be picking up a chocolate bar, burger or doughnut as you don't have as much control over your impulses.

"People who are tired make poorer decisions when it comes to their eating, they choose quick fixes, to give them a burst of energy which can lead to weight gain," says Jessica Alexander from the Sleep Council.

One study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found evidence that we reach for comfort food in the form of high-carb snacks when starved of sleep.

How much sleep is best?

Research published in the International Journal of Obesity in 2012 found that dieters having less than 6, or more than 8, hours sleep per night were less likely to lose weight than those who had between 6 and 8 hours sleep.

Around 500 obese patients were involved in the clinical trial which also saw that lower stress levels combined with good sleeping habits predicted greater weight loss.

That doesn't bode well for the 40% of people in the UK who get less than 6 hours sleep a night.

The Sleep Council statistics show that 33% of us are getting between 5 and 6 hours and 7% are having even less than that.

"Sleep is a neglected element of a healthy lifestyle," says Jessica Alexander of the Sleep Council. "We all hear about the importance of eating healthily and taking exercise but not so much about the importance of a good night's sleep."

Obesity and diabetes

A lack of sleep has been linked to obesity and diabetes. Research in Japan showed that people who had 5 or fewer hours sleep a night, or who reported awakening in the night, had a greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes than those who got more than 7 hours.

With a quarter of adults in the UK obese (a BMI of 30 or more) experts are making connections with changing sleep patterns as well as with eating too much and a lack of exercise.

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