People who got very little sleep ate more but didn’t burn any extra calories in a new study that adds to evidence supporting a link between sleep deprivation and weight gain.
Although the findings don’t prove that sleeplessness causes people to pack on extra pounds, or exactly how the relationship between sleep and body weight might work, they do show that “sleep should be a priority,” said Michael Grandner, who studies sleep and sleep disorders at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.
“If you’re making your diet a priority and trying to be healthy, don’t forget that getting healthy sleep is probably an extremely important part of being healthy,” Grandner, who was not involved in the new work, told Reuters Health.
Previous studies have tested the link between sleep and diet and weight in multiple ways, Grandner explained. Some surveyed large populations of people with questions about their sleeping and eating habits and tracked their future health conditions. Others, including the new report, looked at a smaller group of people very closely, manipulating their sleep schedule and observing how their food cravings and appetite responded.
Both kinds of research have generally supported the idea that less sleep is associated with more extra weight.
One recent study in Sweden found, for example, that young men who were sleep-deprived ate about the same amount of food as usual, but burned between 5 and 20 percent fewer calories than when they were well-rested. (See Reuters Health story of May 13, 2011).
Approximately 50 to 70 million Americans — including a significant number of shift workers — suffer from chronic sleep loss and sleep disorders, according to the National Institutes of Health.
For the current study, Marie-Pierre St-Onge of the New York Obesity Research Center at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital and colleagues recruited thirty men and women in their 30′s and 40′s, all of roughly normal weight. The participants lived and slept in a research center during two different five-night periods.
During one of those visits, they were allowed to sleep for nine hours each night. During the other, participants were only permitted four hours of shut-eye. Both times, they were fed a strict diet for the first four days of their stay and then were allowed to eat whatever they wanted on the fifth and final full day.
Researchers tracked how much energy they burned on a daily basis, and also asked participants how energetic they felt.
The tests showed that regardless of which sleep schedule they were on, people burned a similar amount of calories — about 2,600 per day.
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