Sleep, Hunger and Weight Gain: New Study Uncovers the Link
The results of a new study from St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital and Columbia University in New York begin to explain the relationship between sleep disorders and weight gain.
Researchers investigated the effects of “sleep architecture” on hunger to determine whether specific stages of sleep — not just the duration of sleep — affect the appetite and food cravings in healthy adults. They found that the length of time of sleep, as well as the percentage of overall sleep in different sleep stages, are associated with decreased metabolic rate, increased hunger, and increased intake of calories, specifically from fat and carbohydrates.
The sleep and weight gain study was a team effort between researchers at the New York Obesity Nutrition Research Center at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital, the Department of Psychiatry at Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons, and the Department of Biostatistics at the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University in New York City.
Head researcher Ari Shechter and his colleagues studied a random sample of 27 healthy adults between the ages of 30 and 45. The participants underwent two six-day periods of laboratory observation, during which they slept different lengths of time. During a “habitual sleep” phase, they were allowed to sleep for nine hours; in the “short sleep” phase, they were allowed just four hours of sleep. Each of the two sleep phase studies were separated by four weeks to make sure the participants fully recuperated, and the women were observed at the same phase of their menstrual cycle. The amount of time spent in each sleep phase — stage 1, stage 2, slow wave sleep (SWS), and REM sleep — was recorded.
Hunger, metabolic rate and food desire level
For the first four days in both sleep phases, the participants ate meals to meet their energy requirements for weight maintenance. On day four, they rated their hunger and level of desire for different foods.
On day five, their resting metabolic rate (RMR) was measured, and for the final two days of the sleep phase studies, the participants were allowed to select their own foods.
The researchers then compared the participants’ sleep architectures in both the short sleep and habitual sleep conditions. They also analyzed the relationships between sleep architecture, resting metabolic rate, food intake and food desire ratings.
What researchers found
The results of the study were published in October in the American Journal of Physiology — Regulatory, Integrative and Comparative Physiology. Shechter and his colleagues found that sleep duration is important, but sleep composition — the time and percentage of overall sleep spent in each stage — also plays an important role in the link between sleep and obesity.
Head researcher Shechter explained, “Any number of various factors like obstructive sleep apnea, certain drugs/medications, chronic exposure to short sleep duration, shift work, jet lag, and changes in the scheduling of the sleep episode, can affect sleep stage quantity and distribution. Our data may provide an explanation for the greater obesity prevalence observed within some of these conditions.”
Read the full article, “Changes in Sleep Architecture Increase Hunger, Eating.”
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