Chew on This

Not getting enough sleep? It could explain your weight gain


Can you sleep your way to better health? Not exactly, but a lack of shuteye can sabotage the best weight maintenance efforts.

In fact, new research sheds light on how our body responds to too little sleep.

Data presented last month at the European Society of Endocrinology revealed that healthy, sleep-deprived adults prefer larger food portions, show more food-elated impulsivity and expend less energy. Physiological studies of sleep-deprived subjects demonstrated a decrease in the hormone that promotes fullness and an increase in hormones that promote hunger as one potential underlying cause. Another mechanism, first reported in 2013, showed increased circulation of naturally occurring endocannabinoid molecules in the sleep deprived. These molecules signal reward centers in the brain and increase the enjoyment of eating.

A 2012 study from Columbia University amazes me. Twenty-five normal weight men and women were shown pictures of nutritious and non-nutritious foods while being given a functional MRI. When they were sleep-deprived, compared with adequate sleep, they had a greater brain response to non-nutritious foods. In this same study, a person’s food records showed a larger caloric intake during sleep deprivation.

The big question is how much sleep is optimal. There is an individual variation but a June article in Sleep Health provides a starting point. These Canadian researchers examined sleep duration and cardiometabolic risk scores in adults. Their results provided evidence that seven hours of sleep a night is associated with optimal cardiometabolic health in adults.

Melatonin, produced by the body, synchronizes circadian rhythms and helps promote sleep. Foods that boost melatonin production are fruits like pineapple, oranges and tart cherry juice. Magnesium, with muscle-relaxing properties, is also essential for melatonin production and sleep. Magnesium-rich foods are almonds, spinach, pumpkin seeds, lentils and dark chocolate. A cup of decaffeinated tea, rich in stress-reducing theanine, is a perfect bedtime ritual. I’ve convinced myself to get more sleep, what about you?

Sheah Rarback is a registered dietitian on the faculty of the University of Miami Leonard M. Miller School of Medicine. Follow her on Twitter @sheahrarback.