Want to Lose Weight? Get More Sleep!

New research is finding that too many sleepless nights can do more than just make you cranky – they can make you fat!

Writing for Fox News, Tanya Zuckerbrot, a registered dietician and author of the F-Factor Diet, says the latest research is showing that lack of sleep, poor eating habits and weight problems go hand in hand.

She cites a recent Harvard study which found that people who don’t get enough sleep at night are hungrier and more likely to eat high-calorie foods during the day.

“When researchers conducted MRIs of their sleep-deprived subjects, they found low activity in the prefrontal cortex area of the brain where critical thinking and decision-making occurs,” Zuckerbrot writes. “It seems people who are sleep deprived may have greater difficulty resisting the wrong foods.”

Other theories suggest that lack of sleep causes stress upon the body which triggers the release of excess cortisol which not only stimulates hunger, but slows down the metabolic rate. When the metabolism slows, the body is more prone to store calories as fat rather than to burn them as energy.

“Lack of sleep is known to affect the hormones that control feelings of hunger and fullness,” she continues. “Ghrelin, which is produced in the gastrointestinal tract, stimulates appetite, causing you to feel hungry, while leptin is produced in the fat cells and sends a signal to your brain that you are getting full. Studies have shown that people who are sleep-deprived have lower leptin and elevated ghrelin levels, setting the stage for overeating. Research conducted at the University of Chicago found that people who slept poorly were more inclined to eat sugary, refined carbohydrates.”

Combined with the fact that, according to the National Sleep Foundation, 63 percent of American adults don’t get the recommended seven to nine hours of sleep a night, poor sleeping habits could be contributing to the obesity epidemic in the United States.

Zuckerbrot offers some common sense tips to getting a better night’s sleep – and keeping your weight under control.

First, she suggests eating a balanced diet and to avoid skipped meals which can lead to “nutritional gaps” that affect sleep.

“Iron deficiency has been linked to restless leg syndrome, for example, and lack of folic acid may cause sleeplessness,” she writes. “Foods rich in B vitamins, zinc and calcium are known to calm and relax, which promotes better sleep.”

In addition to moderating the amount of caffeine we imbibe during the day, which can remain in our system for up to 12 hours, it’s a good idea to switch to water or herbal teas later in the day to avoid caffeine-inspired sleeplessness. Salty foods should also be avoided close to bedtime because they cause spikes in blood pressure. Spicy and fatty foods, which can cause indigestion, should also be off the late-night-snack menu.

Try ending the day with a soothing cup of chamomile or peppermint tea, she suggests. If more help is needed, try Melatonin, a hormone produced in the pineal gland which regulates the sleep-wake cycle. Found in the vitamin section, this natural hormone has been used to reduce jet lag and is being tested as a sleep aid with the elderly and other populations.

If weight loss is on your agenda this spring, the best “supplement” you can add to your new diet is a good night’s sleep.

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