Although eating too much and exercising too little are the two reasons most experts give for the increase in American weight, there’s another factor that may help explain why Americans are getting fatter.
We don’t get enough sleep.
Most adults need from seven to nine hours per night for optimal health. According to the National Sleep Foundation, 40% of Americans get less than 7 hours per night. 28% of Americans report missing work, events and activities or made mistakes at work due to sleep deprivation.
We’re busier than ever, and cutting down sleep hours seems like an easy way to squeeze out a little extra time. Studies show that the less sleep you get, the more overweight you probably are. Sleeping only four to five hours a night increases the odds that you’re obese by 50 to 73%.
Harvard Nurses did a study of over 68,000 women and found that women who slept seven to eight hours a night were the least likely to experience major weight gain in coming years. The women who slept six or fewer hours per night had a 12% higher chance of gaining 33 pounds. And those who slept five or fewer hours had nearly a 33% chance of gaining that 33 pounds.
Research has found that sleep-deprived people secrete more ghrelin. That’s a hormone that lines the walls of your stomach. When your stomach is empty, it signals the brain that you’re hungry. The more ghrelin, the sooner you feel empty and want to eat again.
Lack of sleep is stressful, raising your levels of adrenaline and other stress hormones. This makes you feel a greater need to consume calories for the energy to get you through your day. You really need a nap, but few workplaces allow this, so you eat more. And then you’re more likely to eat something for an immediate boost — a candy bar rather than an apple.
Your eating/hunger cycles and sleeping/waking biological cycles are governed by the same gland — the hypothalamus. When you disrupt your hypothalamus by depriving yourself of the sleep you need, it’s only logical that this carries over to your appetite.
Plus, simple common sense tells you that the more time you spend awake rather than asleep, the more time you have to eat. When you stay up late at night, whether it’s to work or watch TV, you lose the full feeling from your evening meal, and feel hungry. When you eat during the day, your body burns those calories on your daily activities. When you eat close to your bedtime, your body has nothing to do with those calories except store them as fat.
One other cause of losing sleep is worrying. If you have a specific problem, by all means do everything you can to solve it. If it’s upsetting you that much, it may also be causing you to eat more in response to the stress. If your life is generally okay but you’re a chronic worry-wart, learn a relaxation or meditation technique and practice it just before going to bed. Cut down on your TV. Americans watch an average of four hours of TV a day. Spend more time exercising or playing with your kids.
If you cut out nothing else, stop watching the nightly news. You can follow important international and national events through online sources. You don’t need to know about all your local fires, rapes, thefts, murders and automobile crashes. That stuff just depresses you without helping you in any way. Small wonder you’re hungry for a snack to make you feel better.
Yes, those radio commercials a few years ago for Body Solutions were a scam. That company is now out of business. Calorad is still for sale. The good news is that you get the weight loss benefit by not eating three hours before you go to bed — and then sleeping at least seven hours.