How to fight the obesity crisis with better sleep


How to fight the obesity crisis with better sleep

The world is growing. We don’t mean in numbers, or at least not in numbers of people, though it is. We mean in size, again not in numbers of people but the size of those people. People are getting bigger, much bigger, and not in an Alice in Wonderland way. You only have to head down to your local shopping centre to realise that we are in the middle of an obesity epidemic the like of which the world has never seen before. More and more people are overweight and dangerously so. That is why it is up to all of us to do whatever we can, action needs to be taken now before the health benefits start really kicking in. There are some fairly obvious ways of fighting the obesity crisis, such as not eating so much and exercising, but there are also some other means of tackling the issue. Take sleep: yes that most inactive of pastimes is actually an important weapon in the fight against obesity. Let’s look at how sleep can combat the fat.

Sleep and weight
On the face of it sleep would not seem to have a lot in common with weight. Sleep has to be one of the least intensive things we do, you barely move and your heart slows down so you wouldn’t imagine that you are burning loads of calories. The thing about sleep and weight is that the connection is not that obvious. In fact, it has only recently been discovered. So what is the connection.

Sleep as a means of regulating appetite
Recent research has found that sleep is an important appetite regulator. The study looked at the regulation of two important appetite controlling hormones, ghrelin and leptin. Leptin is a peptide hormone that plays a role in the regulation of food intake and energy balance. It acts on the central nervous system, suppressing food intake and stimulating energy expenditure. Ghrelin on the other hand is a peptide hormone that works by stimulating the appetite, increasing fat production, and body growth and in turn leading to an increased food intake and a gain in body weight.

A new study by the Wisconsin Sleep Cohort Study on the relationship between leptin and ghrelin levels and sleep discovered that for people sleeping less than 8 hours, there was an increase in BMI was that was directly proportional to their decreased sleep levels.  They also showed that decreased sleep amounts were connected to an increased levels of ghrelin and lower levels of leptin. Anecdotal evidence suggests that eight hours is the perfect amount and that over sleeping can also have the same influence on the levels of ghrelin and leptin in the system.

Put simply, if you sleep for around eight hours a night your will have lower levels of ghrelin and higher levels of leptin, resulting in a lower appetite. Sleeping the right amount each night can help you to manage your weight and can lessen the body’s fat production. Part of our national and international drive toward better health and slimmer waistlines should be ensuring that everyone gets enough sleep.

New research that may hold more answers to the connections between sleep and appetite. It appears that leptin and ghrelin are not the only connections. The study looked at why hunger keeps us awake and why a full belly makes us tired and found that  “sNPF, a neuropeptide long known to regulate food intake and metabolism, is also an important component in regulating and promoting sleep. When researchers activated sNPF in fruit flies, the insects fell asleep almost immediately, awaking only long enough to eat before nodding off again. The flies were so sleepy that once they found a food source, they slept right on top of it for days — like falling asleep on a giant hamburger bun and waking up long enough to take a few nibbles before falling back to sleep.” These findings lead the researchers to conclude that sNPF plays a key role in regulating sleep as well as its already known role in controlling our appetite and metabolism.

Food intake as a means of sleeping better
So now we all just need to sleep better right? Well it turns out that the connections between sleep and appetite and complex  and work both ways. As we all know, there are a number of foods and drinks that impact our sleep in both positive and negative ways. The foods and drinks that are bad for our sleep are fatty foods and high carb foods, drinks like alcohol, coffee and soft drinks. In other words, the foods and drinks that are bad for our sleep are also bad for our health. Similarly all the foods that are promoted as being good for sleep, things like bananas, cherries, almost, cereal, oatmeal and dairy, are all actually  really good for us. Same goes for the drinks that are good for helping us sleep, things like herbal teas and milk. Yes, it would seem that if we eat foods that help us sleep so that our leptin and ghrelin levels are right then we will also be eating foods that will help us lose weight as well.

There are a number of initiatives that need to be implemented to tackle the growing obesity crisis, but one of them seems to be very simple and effective. Put a campaign in place that informs people of the connections between sleep and appetite, empower them with knowledge, help them to understand that not only is sleeping important for overall health and wellbeing but it is also vital in controlling appetite. The campaign should also stress that the foods and drinks that help us to get a good night’s sleep are also healthy, meaning that they have a double impact on our weight. In essence, the campaign needs to explain that our bodies are a single system, that sleep and appetite and intimately connected.

Eat right to sleep right; sleep right to eat right.

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