Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Sleep - Stress - Fat Connection

Trouble loosing weight or always hungry? You may just need a good night's rest or a way to relax.
Over the last decade the research has been building up to solidify the connections between lack of sleep and strong appetite, as well as, chronic stress and weight gain/loss. Amidst all this clinical evidence, awareness is still low and it hasn't sunk in that people need to take care of their MINDS to take care of their bodies.

What does sleep have to do with fat?
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For more than 60-million Americans, there is a silent but powerful negative force at work in their lives. If altered just a bit it could help them drop weight, improve their moods, be healthier, live longer and excel at work... sleep. As it turns out a good chunk of your weight gain, moodiness and brain-fog may be due to your sleep habits. The later two items might not surprise you but most people don't think of getting some Zzzzzzz's as a way of keeping slim when in fact it is.

Sleep Loss Boosts Appetite: Researchers at the University of Chicago have found that partial sleep deprivation alters the circulating levels of the hormones that regulate hunger, causing an increase in appetite and even a preference for calorie-dense, high-carbohydrate foods. Theses hormones -- ghrelin and leptin, both discovered in the last ten years -- represent the 'yin-yang' of appetite regulation. Ghrelin, made by the stomach, connotes hunger. Leptin, produced by fat cells, connotes satiety, telling the brain when we have eaten enough. Sleep deprivation boosts ghrelin, a hormone that stimulates the appetite, and reduces leptin, which suppresses appetite.

There is a sense that you can pack in more of life by skimping on sleep. But we are finding that people tend to replace reduced sleep with added calories, and that's not a healthy trade. At the same time, the added difficulty of making decisions and being disciplined while sleepy weakens the motivation to select more nutritious foods and get exercise.

By the Numbers: In another large sleep study survey of 1.1 million people, BMI increased for habitual sleep of less than 7-8 hours. Participants who slept five hours per night were 73% more likely to become obese than those getting seven to nine nightly hours of sleep and people getting six hours of sleep per night were 27% more likely to become obese, says Columbia University.

In the last 40 years, American adults have cut their average sleep time by nearly two hours. In 1960, U.S. adults slept an average of 8.5 hours a night. By 2002, that had fallen to less than seven hours a night. That is craziness in my book! Over the same period the % of overweight and obese Americans doubled.

Lack of Sleep Screws up your Brain too: Adding insult to injury, it seems lack of sleep not only makes you fat, it may also may you dumb...or at least temporarily impaired!
In fact, a growing body of research reveals a serious drop in cognitive function and memory with even small amounts of sleeplessness. A 2007 study revealed a serious drop in the ability of airport screeners to detect high-risk items. And, that problem worsened if the participant slept less.

This is because much of what we learn during the day is processed and integrated while we sleep. So, when we disrupt our sleep, we mess with not only our ability to form memories, but to understand and utilize new information. This leads to poorer performance both at work and in school. The closest mental and physical impairment to lack of sleep is drunkeness! Hopefully that can shift your perspective on sleep.

Tips to help you sleep better:

  • Avoid Alcohol & Caffeine - it takes about 2-hours to metabolize a drink of alcohol, but caffeine metabolizes far more slowly than that.
  • Develop a nightly routine and go to bed at a consistent time so your mind gets triggered it's bed time.
  • Use the bedroom only for sleep and sex
What does stress have to do with my fat tire?
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People who are naturally skinner lose their appetite and weight when they're stressed, which for them is not good. If you tend to be a person with a slower metabolism, stress leads to weight gain or at least makes it that much harder to lose weight or maintain a healthy weight.

NPY: One study suggests that stress may stimulate obesity by unlocking the body's fat cells. Researchers found a molecule the body releases when stressed called NPY (neuropeptide Y), which appears to unlock certain receptors in fat cells, causing them to grow in both size and number. Yikes! This reinforces my view that "Stress Attracts Illness" if not causes it by setting off chemical reactions.

Cortisol: Another way that emotional stress may lead to weight/fat gain is via the release of Cortisol, but only in long-term chronic cases. Increased levels of cortisol may also make you crave unhealthy high carbohydrates foods, and the stress stirs up excess nervous energy which can often cause you to eat more than you normally would. There is no strong evidence however that the amount of cortisol produced by a healthy individual under stress is enough to cause weight gain, not that there aren't a million other reasons to deal with your daily stress.

Fat Storage: Excessive stress even affects where we tend to store fat. Higher levels of stress have been linked to greater levels of abdominal fat which is not only aesthetically undesirable, it's linked with greater health risks than fat stored in other areas of the body.

Seek Professionals: If the felt burdens in your life have become too great, don't be shy about getting a referral from your doctor or a friend to talk to a mental health professional. I think psychologists are fantastic and know a few myself, some of our members in fact. If you aren't in the best shape, taking care of your mental health may be the best thing you can do for your body.

Whether or not stress or lack of sleep is causing weight gain in your life, the solution is getting and staying in shape by making overall healthy lifestyle changes and letting your body adapt to your lifestyle.

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