Want to control your weight? The key to this may be simpler than you think: Get more sleep. A brand new study of 1800 sets of twins reveals that those twins who slept nine plus hours a night had a drastically increased ability to combat genetically-predisposed weight gain, compared to the twins who slept less than seven hours.
What this means is that, when you do get enough sleep, your genes become less critical in determining how much weight your body lays down. You will no longer at the mercy of your DNA. If at the same time you make good lifestyle choices like eating a healthy diet, and getting some regular, enjoyable exercise, can set the stage for living a long, slim, healthy life. If you are someone who has long struggled with weight control, this is great news. A few extra hours of sleep a night could throw the ball of weight control right back in your own court.
MEET YOUR ALLY
The word leptin means ‘thin’ in Greek. Leptin is an important hormone which helps regulate your metabolism. It tells your brain when you have had enough to eat—the experience known as satiety. Earlier studies have shown that, when you are sleep deprived, your body’s levels of this hormone drop, and you develop what is known as leptin resistance—a condition which interferes with fat burning. Meanwhile, levels of another important hormone ghrelin (leptin’s hunger-signaling counterpart) rise. This results in your experiencing increased appetite and food cravings—especially for carbohydrates like grains, cereals, sugars and junk food—all the stuff which makes us fat and undermines our health.
NIGHT AFTER NIGHT
John Keats in his ‘Sonnet to Sleep’ called sleep the “soft embalmer”, praising its “careful fingers” and “lulling charities”. How right he was. The benefits sleep bestows on us extend far beyond weight control. Sleep helps heal our bodies and our minds—enabling us to integrate new information with ease. When we are sleep deprived, however, our bodies come under biological stress. They begin to respond in negative ways in an attempt to protect us: Muscles get tense. Heart rate and blood pressure go up. Digestion becomes disturbed and your stress hormone, corticosterone, floods the system. Then your body lays down yet more fat deposits while refusing to let go of the ones already there. But here’s the rub about sleep deprivation. In case you think you can “catch up” after prolonged periods of too little sleep, you can’t. For sleep to become an ally in your fat-fighting armory, you need to get plenty night after night.
The new twins research shows that some of us need nine or more hours sleep a night to receive weight control benefits. But there are no hard and fast rules. So instead of trying to adhere to a strict eight or nine-hour-a-night regime, listen to your own unique body. When you do, it will tell you how much sleep you should be getting. Life factors such as age, stress or illness, occupation, sex, diet and pregnancy mean that some people will need more sleep, and others less. Check this out: Are you often tired upon waking? Do you get sleepy throughout the day? Experiment. See how you feel after different amounts of sleep, and find what works for you. Your entire being—not least of all, your slimmer waistline—will thank you for it.
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