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One Way To Avoid Weight Gain: Get Enough Sleep


KERA examines common health issues in our series Vital Signs.

In this edition, a problem common to many – weight gain. A possible solution may lie in how much you sleep. 

Dr. Ryan Hays, Director of Sleep Medicine at Parkland Hospital System and Assistant Professor of Neurology & Neurotherapeutics at UT Southwestern Medical Center, explains how one affects the other.

Highlights from Dr. Hays’s interview:

How lack of sleep leads to weight gain: “For a long time, we’ve seen signals in the research that sleep deprivation is associated with obesity. The reason why has been unclear. But new research out of the University of Alabama demonstrated that patients who slept less than seven hour a night were more likely to spend about nine minutes per day eating while distracted and about 30 minutes per day drinking sugar-sweetened beverages per day. And this distracted eating was done while engaged in some other task – usually while watching TV, listening to the radio, working on the computer or some other task.

Why this happens: “We think that sleep deprivation, chronically over time, kind of erodes, over time, those mental processes that allow us to be alert and mindful of what we’re doing. For example, being chronically sleep deprived is kind of like living in a chronic stressful situation in that fight or flight kind of state where we crave those high carbohydrate, high fat kind of food. So we may have poor food choices. And probably in a sleep deprived state, we’re more likely trying to multitask, albeit inefficiently, so we’re more likely to be engaged in other activities while we’re eating and drinking. So this probably sets us up for failure.”

Can consistently getting a good night’s sleep help keep your weight down? “What we’re learning from these trials that have just been done is that we think sleep deprivation is a risk factor for obesity, and that the conclusion from that would be that sleeping more might be a more important part of our life going forward to decrease these risks for obesity.”

Tips for good sleep hygiene: “Having a clear pattern of winding down in the evening. Exercise throughout the day to try expend extra calories and to kind of help the body rest and relax at night. Things like a hot bath, mindful meditation, yoga, would be helpful in the evening as we get closer to bedtime. Once evening comes, you want to be in a cool, dark room in a quiet environment to encourage sleep. And maintaining similar routines night to night are very important. You brain, your circadian rhythms and the hormones related to sleep regulation really can’t tell the difference from Thursday to Saturday. But, unfortunately, we spend a lot of time tricking ourselves into getting up early on the weekdays to work, and on the weekends, try to sleep in and recover. But that’s probably not a healthy way to do it.”

For more information:

Sleep and Weight Gain: What’s The Connection? 

Sleep – Harvard Medical School 

Obesity and Sleep – National Sleep Foundation

Sam Baker is KERA's senior editor and local host for Morning Edition. The native of Beaumont, Texas, also edits and produces radio commentaries and Vital Signs, a series that's part of the station's Breakthroughs initiative. He also was the longtime host of KERA 13’s Emmy Award-winning public affairs program On the Record. He also won an Emmy in 2008 for KERA’s Sharing the Power: A Voter’s Voice Special, and has earned honors from the Associated Press and the Public Radio News Directors Inc.