Be Fit For Life

with Ellen Cohen-Kaplan

Finally- a weight control habit that doesn’t require will power!

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If you want to better control your appetite, get more sleep.  Many studies have examined the effect of sleep on appetite, but a new study out of the University of Chicago has examined the mechanism that causes us to consume more calories when we are sleep deprived. The ideal amount of sleep is still thought to be around 7.5-8 hours/night. For people who got  4.5 hours of sleep, the manufacture of AG-2, or endocannabinoids (neural regulatory lipids) was  found to be at peak levels from mid-afternoon through evening. This chemical is thought to inhibit the production of leptin, an appetite suppressant hormone, while increasing ghrelin, an appetite stimulant. Although average levels of endocannabinoid that were measured 24 hours in both the sleep deprived and those who got 7.5-8 hours of sleep were the same, much higher peak levels occurred in those who got 4.5 hours of sleep or less. This caused the sleep-deprived subjects to consume an average of nearly 1,000 calories in snacks in the early evening compared with 600 calories in those who had a full night’s sleep. In addition, the sleep deprived subjects ate twice as much fat.

A few other factors may also be in play. Those who are sleep deprived produce more cortisol, a stress hormone that interferes with sugar metabolism. It was also found that sleep deprivation causes more resistance to the metabolism of blood glucose, which may lead  to type 2 diabetes. When you don’t get enough sleep, you may also have less will power to resist foods that you reflexively reach for to increase energy. The main food preferences that resulted from sleep deprivation were those that were salty, sweet and/or starchy,  which should be no surprise. Have you ever found yourself watching late night TV- who are the biggest advertisers?  Add smoking marijuana to the equation, and you’ve got the perfect storm- the “munchies” can be attributed to the same mechanism, the activation of the endocannabinoid system that is connected to the pleasure eating system. Researchers also found that people who were sleep deprived had stronger neural responses to high calorie foods than those who had normal sleep amounts.


As if that wasn’t reason enough to get your nightly requirement of shut-eye, researchers say insufficient sleep is associated with the following negative behaviors and physical consequences :

  • an increased risk of developing Type 2 diabetes
  • weakened immunity and an increased tendency to get sick
  • impaired cognitive function including memory, alertness and decision-making
  • increased impulsiveness, risk-taking and addictive behavior
  • eating more and eating more unhealthy foods

For the full article, see

Interestingly, the cause and effect loop may go both ways; when you are sleep deprived, you want to eat foods that are more fatty, salty or sweet, but when you eat these types of foods, it often affects your quality of sleep. Slow-wave sleep, which is necessary to produce the rejuvenating effects, is less plentiful in those who ate higher saturated fatty and sugary foods than those who didn’t. This also accounts for why alcohol may lull you to fall asleep, but presents problems when trying to stay asleep. Alcohol is quickly metabolized into sugar, which wakes you up after only a short sleep. Dehydration is also a culprit after alcohol consumption, which accounts for headaches and poor quality of sleep.

The take-away? At least 7.5-8 hours of sleep is optimal for keeping the munchies at bay; and you may be contributing to a self-perpetuating bad habit if you eat sweet and salty foods during the day which could keep you up. The solution is simple. Commit to an earlier bedtime, since most of us need to get up by a certain hour. If you have the luxury of getting up whenever you want, be sure to get those good quality sleep hours in. This could be one of the easier weight loss tips to come around in a long time!

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