Sleeping more can help your body absorb fewer calories, experiment finds

New research has iden­ti­fied a pos­si­ble way to lose calo­ries with­out close­ly mon­i­tor­ing diets or exer­cis­ing more — sim­ply by spend­ing a lit­tle more time in bed, in fact.

In an exper­i­ment with 80 over­weight adults who typ­i­cal­ly slept less than 6.5 hours per night, adding an aver­age of 1.2 hours of extra sleep per night result­ed in a reduc­tion in over­all caloric intake of an aver­age of 270 calo­ries per day.

With­in two weeks of the exper­i­ment, caloric intake — the ener­gy con­sumed via food and drink — decreased to less than the amount of calo­ries burned by par­tic­i­pants, which in the longer term would lead to weight loss.

The research takes the oppo­site approach to sev­er­al pre­vi­ous stud­ies that have suc­cess­ful­ly linked sleep depri­va­tion to addi­tion­al weight gain.

“Over the years, we and oth­ers have shown that sleep restric­tion affects appetite reg­u­la­tion, which leads to increased food intake and thus puts you at risk for weight gain over time,” says Esra Tasali, direc­tor of the Uni­ver­si­ty of Chica­go. Sleep Center.

“More recent­ly, the ques­tion every­one was ask­ing was, ‘Well, if that’s what’s hap­pen­ing with sleep loss, can we pro­long sleep and reverse some of these adverse effects?’ ”

If this reduc­tion in caloric intake was main­tained over three years, it would result in a weight loss of about 12 kilo­grams or 26 pounds over that time, the researchers said.

One advan­tage of the study is that it was con­duct­ed in a real-world envi­ron­ment, not a lab­o­ra­to­ry. Par­tic­i­pants slept in their own beds, using wear­able devices to track their sleep, and went through their days as usu­al, includ­ing what they ate and how much they exercised.

The vol­un­teers used a urine test to track their caloric intake, cur­rent­ly con­sid­ered the gold stan­dard for mea­sur­ing dai­ly ener­gy expen­di­ture out­side the lab­o­ra­to­ry. This involved drink­ing water in which hydro­gen and oxy­gen atoms were replaced with oth­er eas­i­ly traced nat­ur­al isotopes.

By com­par­ing labeled water con­sumed by vol­un­teers with unla­beled water from decom­posed glu­cose, it is pos­si­ble to accu­rate­ly esti­mate calo­ries tak­en in out­side the lab.

Anoth­er notable part of the research was how quick­ly the group adjust­ed their sleep sched­ules — after just one coun­sel­ing and advice ses­sion led by the research team, over­all sleep dura­tion was increased.

“We sim­ply coached each indi­vid­ual on good sleep hygiene and dis­cussed their own per­son­al sleep envi­ron­ment, pro­vid­ing per­son­al­ized advice on changes they could make to improve their sleep dura­tion,” Tasali explains.

“It is impor­tant to note that to blind par­tic­i­pants to the sleep inter­ven­tion, the recruit­ment mate­ri­als did not men­tion the sleep inter­ven­tion, allow­ing us to cap­ture true habit­u­al sleep pat­terns at baseline.”

The researchers say that lim­it­ing the use of elec­tron­ic devices before bed was one of the main ways to improve sleep behav­ior in the study. Par­tic­i­pants were not informed that they were par­tic­i­pat­ing in a sleep inter­ven­tion study when they enrolled.

What is not yet clear is exact­ly why this is hap­pen­ing, although, as not­ed, pre­vi­ous stud­ies have found links between less sleep and increased appetite, so it is pos­si­ble that the reverse is hap­pen­ing. In this case, most par­tic­i­pants who slept more ate less.

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