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Does Sleep Really Affect Your Weight?
Diet and exercise are not enough
Research proves that quality sleep is paramount in dieting and exercise. As the world grapples with an obesity epidemic, it also grapples with an insomnia epidemic. In the United States alone, an estimated 75% of the population does not get quality sleep, according to a 2005 survey by the National Sleep Foundation. In order to help with a slimmer waistline and better overall health, sleep may be the missing ingredient.
This may seem contrary to conventional thinking about dieting – eating fewer calories than can be burned in 24 hours and burning calories through movement. But it also requires a recovery period after such a move. Weightlifters are fully aware of the need to take a rest day between intense weightlifting workouts in order to properly build muscle. A new study suggests that the body needs quality sleep to burn calories more efficiently. The results were presented at the international conference of the American Thoracic Society.
Specifics of the study
The weight loss study conducted at America’s first veterans hospital, Walter Reed, found that sleep was the key to achieving a healthy body mass index (BMI). Fourteen Walter Reed nurses volunteered to be human guinea pigs. They wore pedometers and armbands that measured their activity level. By measuring vital body statistics such as temperature and body position, the researchers were able to determine each nurse’s activity level.
Nurses were divided into “light sleepers” (those who only got a few hours of sleep per night) and “long sleepers” (those who got eight hours of sleep per night). The “short sleepers” were more obese, with an average BMI. index of 28.3, however, the “long sleepers” only had an average BMI of 24.5. But pedometers showed that “short sleepers” took more than 14,000 steps a day, while “long sleepers” only needed 11,300 a day. Nurses who walked more and slept less also weighed more.
The study researchers stressed that more studies should be conducted to further clarify the role of sleep in weight loss. The lead researcher, Arn Eliasson, MD, speculated that stress could be the main reason why “little sleepers” are both overweight and tired. Stress can disrupt sleep. The Mayo Clinic notes that people with a depressive disorder often develop insomnia because patients become too restless to sleep.
The purpose of sleep
Sleep still remains a mystery to science. Although lack of sleep can quickly trigger headaches, disorientation and hallucinations, why does the body depend on it so much that it has to spend a third of its life in sleep mode? Scientists still don’t know. The prevailing theory is that sleep helps the brain process new experiences each day.
A recent theory challenges this assumption, claiming that sleep benefits the whole body and helps keep an individual adaptable enough to survive no matter how much the environment changes. This theory comes from the director of the Center for Sleep Research, Professor Jerome Siegel. Sleeping slows down the body’s metabolism. Sleep seems to be the body’s way of constantly evaluating where the body’s energies should be focused. Sleep is therefore a complete diagnosis of the organism.
Cutting this diagnosis means the body is constantly confused about how best to spend its precious amounts of resources, such as the type stored in fat. Fat is a calorie bank that breaks down in times of scarcity. Since Homo sapiens is thought to be around 195,000 years old, fat was a necessary element for survival. Only in the last hundred years or so have most humans had consistent access to food.
Diet and exercise affect sleep
Studies like the one conducted at Walter Reed don’t mean that all an obese person needs to lose weight is to get eight hours of sleep a night. Diet and exercise are just as important to getting quality sleep as quality sleep is to diet and exercise. Regular exercise helps tire the body and helps you fall asleep. Food choices can help the body become drowsy or stay up all night. With quality sleep, the body has the energy to exercise and make wise food choices.
The National Sleep Foundation states that insomnia is a symptom of an underlying condition that requires treatment. The National Sleep Foundation recommends that anyone who has had insomnia for a month see a doctor. Vigorous exercises should be avoided just before sleep, as the body will be too stimulated to relax.
Dealing with weight loss and sleep issues is a very complex issue that requires a multi-faceted approach. The National Sleep Foundation recommends keeping a diary of food, exercise, and sleep habits to share with a doctor to get the best treatment. Using stress management techniques before bed can help stop thoughts and worries. Medications may also be prescribed for short-term use.
Patients avoid sleeping pills because there is a risk of addiction. Reputable doctors put a patient on a schedule to gradually add the drug and then wean the patient off. There are several promising herbs such as valerian root and chamomile that can help the body relax, although their effects are not as strong as prescription medications and they don’t have the same side effects.
A promising over-the-counter treatment is the hormone melatonin (N-acetyl-5-methoxytryptamine). This hormone helps circadian rhythms function optimally. It is often available at airports due to its reputed benefits in alleviating jet lag. But all herbs and vitamins can cause side effects. For example, melatonin can cause nightmares, and people with a ragwort allergy will have the same allergic reaction to chamomile. Whatever sleep aid is taken, the patient should follow a diet, exercise and learn non-chemical ways to manage stress. Eventually, the books will be shed.
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