We all know that sleep is important, and not just to keep us looking and feeling well-rested. Sleep is when you process and consolidate your memories. It helps boost your immune system, ward off anxiety and depression, and has even been linked to longevity.
Now there’s another con of being sleep-deprived to add to the list. More and more research is showing not getting enough sleep is linked to weight gain. Most recently, a small but interesting new study of 14 people done by the University of Chicago found that people who were short on sleep had less appetite control than those who were well-rested.
People were divided into two groups — those who slept 4.5 hours a night for four nights and those who slept 8.5 hours. After three days on the restricted sleep schedule they were given an eating test. First they fasted for almost a full day and then were allowed to eat as much as they wanted. Both groups ate about the same at mealtimes, but those who slept less snacked more in between, eating twice as much fat and an average of 380 more calories.
Part of the reason for this difference is that a lack of sleep activates the system in our body that controls reward, called the endocannabinoid system. It’s the same system that’s triggered by marijuana, and when it’s activated it makes people more hungry. Sleep deprivation basically gives you the “munchies,” just like marijuana. You feel hungrier even though you don’t need more food energy than a person getting enough sleep.
Scientists don’t think the endocannabinoid system is the only explanation for the connection between sleep deprivation and weight gain, but it definitely appears to be a culprit. This discovery adds the endocannabinoid system to a series of other known connections between sleep deprivation and weight gain, sleep’s effect on leptin and ghrelin, two hormones that control appetite. One thing is clear though, getting a good night’s sleep is key to controlling your weight.
Having trouble sleeping well? Make sure your lifestyle is conducive to a good sleep. Get plenty of exercise every day. Shoot for at least 20 minutes of intense exercise or meeting 10,000 steps a day. Turn off all electronics an hour before bed. You need low lighting for your brain to release the sleep hormone melatonin. If you can’t sleep, go to another room and do something else until you feel tired. Sleep is key to good health, so make sure you’re getting yours!
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