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Eat Less Naturally

May 24, 2010 Written by JP    [Font too small?]

Have you ever noticed that you eat more on days following a poor night’s sleep? Maybe you graze voraciously on snack foods while at school or work or perhaps you can’t control your appetite very well when you sit down for lunch or dinner. If you’re all too familiar with either of these patterns, then you might want to make this a Healthy Monday by resolving to place a higher priority on sleep.

A lack of sleep is known to affect hunger hormones such as ghrelin and leptin in such a way as to increase appetite. But how this translates into real world eating habits hasn’t been well established. The June 2010 issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition attempts to shed light on this precise issue.

French researchers set out to examine the effects of short-term, partial sleep deprivation on the eating habits of 12 young men. The experiment called for the participants to sleep for either 4 or 8 hours during separate 48 hour eating trials. A careful record of food consumption was documented in both instances. The results of this crossover study indicate that the sleep deprived men consumed 559 more calories per day or 22% more energy than on the days following the 8 hour sleep period. It’s also interesting to note that the study group didn’t report a greater desire to eat during the 4 hour sleep period. This suggests that the added caloric intake occurred in a less than conscious way. This can be termed as “mindless eating” and according to the authors of the study could be “a factor that promotes obesity”. (1)

The connection between sleep loss and weight management isn’t a new topic for debate. A current scientific review explains that “sleep restriction results in metabolic and endocrine alterations, including decreased glucose tolerance, decreased insulin sensitivity, increased evening concentrations of cortisol, increased ghrelin, decreased levels of leptin and increased hunger and appetite”. The stress connection is of particular importance as higher stress levels have been consistently linked to weight concerns. Along these same lines, a Canadian trial recently demonstrated that acute sleep restriction dramatically slows down the rate by which the body eliminates cortisol (a stress hormone). (2,3)

How Much Sleep Do You Really Need?

Age Sleep Needs
Newborns (1-2 months) 10.5-18 hours
Infants (3-11 months) 9-12 hours during night and 30-minute to two-hour naps, one to four times a day
Toddlers (1-3 years) 12-14 hours
Preschoolers (3-5 years) 11-13 hours
School-aged Children (5-12 years) 10-11 hours
Teens (11-17) 8.9-9.25 hours
Adults 7-9 hours
Older Adults 7-9 hours
Source: National Sleep Foundation (link)

The above research appears to establish a link between sleep deficiency and unhealthy eating patterns and ultimately weight gain. However most scientists want an even more reliable form of evidence in order to make the case. This will likely involve the use of randomized, controlled studies in larger groups of men and women. Such trials will define whether adding more sleep to the lives of obese, sleep-deprived individuals will result in marked weight loss. Thankfully, this is exactly the type of study that is currently in the works. (4)

Scientific studies are invaluable tools that assist patients and physicians in making the best possible health care decisions. But in this case, I don’t think we need to wait for an official medical endorsement to improve sleep hygiene. In the long run, added sleep may or may not play a significant role in weight management, but there’s virtually no controversy about the pivotal role that sufficient rest provides to overall mental and physical health. I think that’s reason enough to a dream a little longer and catch some added z’s.

Be well!


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5 Comments & Updates to “Eat Less Naturally”

  1. Mallory Says:

    i know for me i do best on 9-10 hours of sleep, and i definitely notice full force every side effect you mention. mostly i notice i am more on edge and antsy or have this nervous energy. i am a huggggggnormous fan of sleep

  2. JP Says:

    Me too. 🙂 I think there’s an optimal sleep range but it varies from person to person. Some people do well sleeping longer hours – up to 10 hours. While others function just fine with 6 or fewer hours a night. I suppose it’s a matter of genetics and lifestyle considerations.

    I fall into the 7 to 8 hour group. But I sometimes sleep longer on days where I’ve had less sleep the night before. I suppose my body balances itself out in the long term.

    Be well!


  3. Mark Says:

    Most nights I can get 6 to 7-1/2 hrs of sleep. I seem to catch up on the weekends, but I don’t find myself grazing after a night on the low end of my sleep scale. I have gotten into such a grove with my healthy eating habits it would hard to break

  4. JP Says:


    It seems as though your discipline and healthy habits are stronger than any of the other factors! Good to hear! 🙂

    Be well!


  5. JP Says:

    Update 04/28/15:


    Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise: Post Acceptance: April 18, 2015

    Effects of High-Intensity Intermittent Exercise Training on Appetite Regulation.

    Objective: An acute bout of high intensity intermittent exercise suppresses ad-libitum energy intake at the post-exercise meal. The present study examined the effects of 12 weeks of high intensity intermittent exercise training (HIIT) compared with moderate intensity continuous exercise training (MICT) on appetite regulation.

    Methods: Thirty overweight, inactive men (BMI: 27.2 +/- 1.3 kg/m2; V[spacing dot above]O2Peak: 35.3 +/- 5.3 mL.kg-1.min-1) were randomised to either HIIT or MICT (involving 12 weeks of training, 3 sessions per week) or a control group (CON) (n = 10 per group). Ad-libitum energy intake from a laboratory test meal was assessed following both a low-energy (LEP: 847 kJ) and a high-energy preload (HEP: 2438 kJ) pre and post-intervention. Perceived appetite and appetite-related blood variables were also measured.

    Results: There was no significant effect of the intervention period on energy intake at the test meal following the two different preloads (p >= 0.05). However, the 95% CI indicated a clinically meaningful decrease in energy intake after the HEP compared with LEP in response to HIIT (516 +/- 395 kJ decrease), but not for MICT or CON, suggesting improved appetite regulation. This was not associated with alterations in the perception of appetite or the circulating concentration of a number of appetite-related peptides or metabolites, although insulin sensitivity was enhanced with HIIT only (p = 0.003).

    Conclusion: HIIT appears to benefit appetite regulation in overweight men. The mechanisms for this remain to be elucidated.

    Be well!


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