Research shows poor sleep impacts weight and health risks

Evidence suggests that inadequate sleep doesn’t just affect your performance the next day, but over time, also impacts your weight as it increases health risks.

How did you sleep last night? Are you getting enough or was your sleep cut short? Although exact sleep needs vary for each person, research from the National Sleep Foundation suggests that the average adult should be getting between seven and nine hours of sleep each night. Most people think about the short-term effects of a poor night’s sleep. This is often displayed as grogginess or feeling tired the next day, an inability to focus or remember new information, and irritability.

Too little sleep may be more harmful than you think. There is a growing body of evidence that shows that inadequate sleep doesn’t just affect your performance the next day, but over time can impact your weight and increase your risk of developing certain chronic health conditions. A recent study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine followed seven healthy adults over a period of four days that were randomly placed into two different groups; one that received 4.5 hours of sleep each night and one that received 8.5 hours of sleep each night. The researchers controlled food intake and physical activity between the two different groups, while analyzing their fat tissue during the course of the study. It was found that those who received less sleep, experienced changes with their fat cells: the cells had a reduction in their ability to take in insulin. In a healthy person, fat cells store the fat where the body can access them and use them for energy. When fat cells become insulin-resistant, fat tissue leaks out of the cells and then travels through the blood stream. Fat starts to accumulate in other areas of the body, like the liver. This can interfere with other internal body functions, like the ability of insulin to transfer glucose from the blood into muscle cells. Over time, this may lead to health problems like obesity and Type II diabetes.

This particular study was a small number of participants, but provides some interesting insight on how our body can react to inadequate amounts of sleep over time and emphasizes the importance of getting enough sleep. Don’t think you’re sleeping enough? Here are some tips that may help:

  • Be physically active for the recommended 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity each week.
  • Avoid caffeine before bed and as much as several hours prior to bedtime; for some, it can linger in your system and affect your sleep cycle.
  • Create an environment that promotes sleep. Make your sleep area dark, quiet, comfortable and cool. Limit distractions like television, computers and other electronics.
  • Have a bedtime routine. Start about an hour before bedtime, and do what relaxes you. Some examples are taking a warm bath, listening to soothing music, reading or meditating. Once these things become a habit your body will automatically be preparing for sleep as you do them.

Everyone has times where they will be getting less than the optimal amount of sleep that cannot be avoided; children, work/school demands, illness or other life events often affect our sleep for a period of time. However, it is important that we make sleep a priority in the long term for our overall health. Looking for more strategies for healthy living? Contact a Michigan State University Extension educator near you.

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