Not sleeping enough or reducing the quality of your sleep by eating late at night disturbs the deep assimilation of nutrients that can only happen in deep slumber. The appetite can be thrown off balance as you seek the irreplaceable nourishment of sleep in food instead (often sugary foods and coffee that can weaken your digestion further…!).
The relationship between sleep, appetite, and digestion is a fundamental one in Chinese medicine, so it’s especially interesting to me to see it popping up in this University of Colorado study. The study found that people sleeping fewer hours ended up eating more and gaining weight.
“Just getting less sleep, by itself, is not going to lead to weight gain,” said Kenneth Wright, the director of the laboratory that carried out the study. “But when people get insufficient sleep, it leads them to eat more than they actually need.”
The study was carried out at the University of Colorado hospital where the 16 “young, lean, healthy” subjects lived for about two weeks, sleeping in a controlled setting. After a few days where both groups could sleep for up to nine hours to establish a baseline, for five days one group had five hours of sleep opportunity and the other had nine. Both groups had access to large meals and a variety of snacks. The groups switched conditions for a second run of five days.
The press release from UC Boulder describes the results:
“On average, the participants who slept for up to five hours a night burned 5 percent more energy than those who slept up to nine hours a night, but they consumed 6 percent more calories. Those getting less sleep also tended to eat smaller breakfasts but binge on after-dinner snacks. In fact, the total amount of calories consumed in evening snacks was larger than the calories that made up any individual meal. The current findings add to the growing body of evidence showing that overeating at night may contribute to weight gain.
“Wright and his colleagues also found that men and women responded differently to having access to unrestricted food. Men gained some weight even with adequate sleep when they could eat as much as they wanted, while women simply maintained their weight when they had adequate sleep, regardless of how much food was available. Both men and women gained weight when they were only allowed to sleep for up to five hours.”
Of course–no telling what strange effect living in a sleep study lab for two weeks will have on your eating and sleeping!! …but it still seems like a promising line of study to get some fairly common sense ideas about appetite and sleep into mainstream thinking.
If you struggle with food cravings and weight gain, take a look at the quality and duration of your sleep!
Here is the link to the original press release from University of Colorado: