2007-05-30 / Health

Sleep neglect may lead to overeating, weight gain

By Jamie Hamblin University of Georgia

While it's OK to use the weekends to catch up on some tasks, sleep shouldn't be one of them.

People often make the mistake of using the weekends to catch up on sleep, said Sara Hendrix, a graduate student in the University of Georgia College of Family and Consumer Sciences.

Instead, they should set aside a seven- to eight-hour sleep period beginning and ending at the same time every night, including weekends.

"The quality of sleep matters just as much as the quantity of sleep," said Gail Hanula, a University of Georgia Cooperative Extension nutrition specialist.

According to a University of Chicago study, not getting enough sleep disrupts the balance between two hormones: leptin and ghrelin. This disruption can lead to overeating and, in turn, weight gain.

"Adequate sleep, often sacrificed or neglected in the name of 'busyness,' may be another factor affecting weight control," Hanula said.

"Leptin is an appetite suppressor," Hendrix said. "Studies show that people who don't get adequate sleep produce lower levels of leptin. Therefore, their appetites may increase."

On the other hand, ghrelin, the opposing hormone, stimulates appetite.

"When sleep decreases, ghrelin increases, which may also cause an increase in appetite," Hendrix said. "Specifically, changes in these hormone levels can possibly intensify cravings for sweets, salty snacks and starchy foods."

Getting enough sleep enables your body to produce a balance of these hormones, which may make it easier to resist eating too many unhealthy foods. So if you're trying to lose or maintain weight, focus on developing healthy sleep patterns as well as healthy eating and exercise habits.

To get a quality night's rest, Hanula and Hendrix suggest these guidelines:

+ Avoid caffeine late in the day. Caffeine from coffee, chocolate and sodas can take up to eight hours to wear off.

+ Avoid alcohol in excess. Although alcohol may make you tired, it keeps you in the lighter stages of sleep.

+ Avoid large meals two hours before bedtime.

+ Don't nap too late in the day or for more than an hour.

+ Exercise. The more energy you expend during the day, the more worn out you will be by the time you lie down at night.

(Jamie Hamblin is a student writer for the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

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