I was glad to see that obesity is now being called a disease. It should bring much needed attention to a problem that is strongly linked to diabetes, heart disease, and hypertension. However, I was somewhat perturbed by the lack of media attention being given to the link between sleep and obesity. I did not read or hear about it being discussed on any of the network or cable outlets. Yet those of us in the sleep community know it to be true.
We know that the average American is sleeping less now than ever before. The National Sleep Foundation reports that over 30% of Americans are sleeping less than six hours a night. Many of us in the medical community think that this, in part, is responsible for the epidemic of obesity. Only recently have we come to understand the mechanisms behind this.
Lack of sleep leads to the over production of the hormone Ghrelin. This appetite stimulating hormone is produced by the stomach. In fact, when chronically elevated, Ghrelin causes an increased craving for carbohydrates, especially noncomplex carbs, which leads to a rapid rise in glucose followed by surges in insulin. This combination results in increased fat storage and nocturnal eating–right at a time when we are the least likely to be able to burn calories.
At the same time, an appetite suppressing hormone called Leptin is subdued by insufficient sleep. In addition, some studies have shown that a drop in Leptin may also function to decrease our basal metabolic rate.
I believe it is more than coincidental that the rapid rise in obesity over the last two decades has been paralleled by a decrease in the duration of sleep. Therefore, if you are having trouble losing weight, make sure you are getting seven to eight hours of sleep at night. This could be the key to shedding those excess pounds.