Sleep Your Way to Skinniness and Wellness

Chuck Norris | 6/24/2013, 3:14 p.m.
Q: Chuck, I hear that not getting enough sleep can make one gain weight. Ever heard of that? And what ...

Q: Chuck, I hear that not getting enough sleep can make one gain weight. Ever heard of that? And what natural means do you recommend to slumber better and more? -- Tom V., Arkansas

A: Men's Health recently reported that a new study in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition says that if you don't get enough sleep, you could be eating an extra 300 calories per day. Combined with new studies also revealing that one-third of Americans aren't getting enough (eight hours') sleep, that's challenging news.

The sleep-weight study was conducted by Temple University researchers who monitored people ages 30 to 49 who normally slept for seven to nine hours nightly. When they deliberately restricted the sleep of half the participants to only four hours each night, the researchers found that those participants' appetites increased considerably. At the same time, both groups burned just about the same number of calories despite their amount of sleep.

Two primary factors likely caused the intensified hunger. First, researchers already know that sleep deprivation triggers the production of the appetite-stimulating hormone ghrelin and decreases the appetite-satiating hormone leptin. What that means is that insufficient sleep can slow down one's metabolism, to the tune of 10 pounds of weight gain in a year.

Secondly, Gary D. Foster, Ph.D., director of Temple University's Center for Obesity Research and Education, explained that inadequate sleep reduces your self-control, and less willpower can, in turn, easily result in binge eating. Foster said: "A TV commercial, chips in your kitchen, and people around you can all trigger eating. It really comes down to how on top of your game you are."

Of course, weight gain is only one potential problem among those who don't get enough sleep. Clinical studies also show that those who are sleep-deprived are three times likelier to get a common sickness such as a cold or the flu. Additionally, they run increased risks of memory loss, bad reaction time, depression, mood disorders, substance abuse, diabetes and heart disease, to name a few.

As reported in The New York Times, risks of cancers may even increase for those who have chronic sleep problems. A Japanese study of nearly 24,000 women ages 40 to 79 and a study of 1,240 people by researchers at Case Western Reserve University found that those who slept less than six hours nightly were likelier to develop breast cancer or potentially cancerous colorectal polyps.

No wonder Dr. Michael J. Twery, a sleep specialist at the National Institutes of Health, told The New York Times, "Sleep affects almost every tissue in our bodies."

In his book "The Seven Pillars of Health," Dr. Don Colbert says that getting adequate amounts of sleep is necessary if you expect to function properly and remain healthy. A good night's sleep restores, repairs and rejuvenates the body. It is vital for the immune system and slows the aging process.

If you're one of the 100 million Americans who need more shut-eye, there is hope. Experts say there are some natural alternatives and strategies to prescription sleep aids, such as exercising more regularly (which releases natural endorphins), eating more sleepy-time foods toward the end of the day, getting counseling for worrisome issues, learning to manage stress better, napping in early (not late) afternoons -- if you nap at all -- creating a sleep-conducive bedroom (including no electronics), progressively turning down and off inside house lights and electronics each evening, creating nighttime rituals that help you rest (such as praying or meditating before you go to bed), and taking herbal supplements containing melatonin. (Additional tips for increased slumber among each age group can be found at http://www.menshealth.com/spotlight/sleep/snooze.php.)