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Struggling to Control Your Appetite? Try Getting More Sleep

Struggling to Control Your Appetite? Try Getting More Sleep

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Most people know that when it comes to staying in shape, eating a well-balanced diet and exercising regularly are musts. What many people don't realize is that maintaining a healthy figure may also depend on an oft-neglected aspect of our daily lives: sleep. Research shows that sleep plays a critical role in regulating chemicals that affect our appetites. According to sleep specialists, getting the proper amount of shut-eye is important because it helps to control the appetite, especially for calorie-rich foods like bread, pasta, cake, and ice cream. That sleep can help to control appetite should come as good news to all who take an "every little bit helps" approach to weight loss.

The Science Linking Sleep and Appetite

The influence of sleep on hunger became widely known to the scientific community just a few years ago with the publication of a pair of studies from the University of Chicago in Illinois and Stanford University in California. The studies examined the effects of sleep deprivation on two hormones that play a role in regulating appetite: leptin, a chemical that makes us feel full, and ghrelin, a chemical that stimulates hunger.

In the University of Chicago study, twelve healthy men were limited to fours hours of sleep a night for two nights followed by two nights in which they were allowed to sleep for up to ten hours a night. Their hormone levels, appetites, and levels of activity were recorded at various points during the study. The researchers discovered that getting only four hours of sleep caused the men's leptin levels to decrease by 18 percent and their ghrelin levels to rise by 28 percent. Self-reports by the men indicated that these changes significantly increased their appetites, especially for high-calorie, carbohydrate-rich foods, such as cookies, bread, ice cream, and candy.    

In the Stanford study, more than 1,000 people provided information about their sleep habits and underwent regular blood and sleep tests between the ages of 30 and 60. Those who reported sleeping less than eight hours a night had lower levels of leptin and higher levels of ghrelin, as well as higher amounts of body fat. In addition, the subjects' sleep habits appeared to be related to their weight: those who reported getting the least amount of sleep weighed the most.

Why Sleep Deprivation May Cause Junk-Food Cravings

Sleep researchers say that these studies shed light on why so many individuals who fail to get adequate sleep also have weight problems. As to why being sleep-deprived might make a person hungrier for junk food than for healthier options, Dr. Eve Van Cauter, one of the researchers in the Chicago study, said that since the brain uses glucose for energy, it may prefer simple carbohydrates when distressed by a lack of sleep. It's also possible that the mental haze that comes with being tired may rob us of the motivation necessary for choosing healthy food over high-fat alternatives, according to Van Cauter's team.

Getting a Good Night's Sleep

So how can you get a better night's sleep? The following tips will help you catch the z's you need to bring your appetite under control:

  • Allow yourself enough time to sleep. Although individual sleep needs vary, most people require between seven and nine hours of sleep nightly.
  • Do not use caffeine, nicotine, or alcohol late in the afternoon or evening. Caffeine and nicotine are both stimulants, and alcohol, though it initially acts as a sedative, produces stimulating effects when it is metabolized.
  • Exercise regularly, but not within two or three hours of going to bed, as this will raise your body temperature and make it difficult to fall asleep.  
  • Develop a nighttime routine, such as listening to relaxing music or taking a hot bath or shower. Performing these routine activities will signal your body that it's time to get ready for bed.
  • Try to maintain a regular sleep schedule. Going to bed and getting up at the same time every day, even on weekends, will strengthen your body's natural sleep-wake cycle, making it easier for you to fall asleep at night.

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