Can You Sleep Your Way Slim?

November 23, 2010

Western society is characterized by high stress, lack of exercise, lack of sleep and overeating – but that’s not all of us. Some of us regularly hit the gym and try to eat well – but who isn’t guilty of getting too stressed out from time to time? How about missing a few hours of sleep when we’re having a week like this:  trying to work, get the kids to soccer, cook dinner and grocery shop for a big Thanksgiving meal? Last week I discussed a study on how even small amounts of light in our sleep environment can pack on the pounds, and it turns out if we miss sleep several nights in a row – that’s not helping either. A study in the Journal Of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism looked at 11 middle aged subjects (6 females and 5 males) who prior to the study averaged about 7.5 hours of sleep per night.  For 14 days they slept prescribed amounts (either 8.5 hours or 5.5 hours), didn’t exercise and had ample food available – in effort to mimic typical Western lifestyle of sitting at a desk, vending machine down the hall, and stress keeping us up at night. Previous research has shown that you had to pull and all-nighter to see changes in insulin sensitivity, but this small study showed that repeated nights that were simply short on sleep also decreased insulin sensitivity.  Past data illustrates that those who sleep at least 7 hours per night are at decreased risk for developing metabolic diseases such as Metabolic Syndrome and Diabetes, and those that sleep less than 6 are at increased risk for these diseases. This more recent study, shows that only 2 weeks of not getting enough sleep shifts our metabolism towards a less insulin sensitive state. What this means for your health is increased risk for heart and kidney disease as longer term complications of Diabetes. But what it means for your physique is more fat storage.  Insulin shuttles nutrients, including glucose, out of your blood and into your cells for use.  When your fuel stores are full or glucose simply can’t get in, which is the case with insulin resistance, that extra glucose goes to fat storage.  This is why I tell my clients, that at each meal they have the opportunity to create a fat burning or a fat storing environment in their body by choosing the right foods. A high fiber, protein rich, managed starchy carb meal with some healthy fat encourages fat burning – whereas a high carb meal in the average person (athletes excluded of course, performance nutrition is very different from fat loss nutrition) promotes fat storage. Turns out, missing just a few nights of shut-eye, also creates a fat storing environment. So do what you can to get at 7-9 hours of quality sleep each night.  Eat balanced meals of fiber, protein, healthy fat and a manageable carb load (see last week’s post for details). Stress is the #1 reason I hear from my patients as to why they can’t sleep.  They lay in bed at night stressing over work, finances, etc. With Thanksgiving just a few days away, de-stress and sleep sounder by making a list before you hit the hay of 5 things you are grateful for. It will help assure you that no matter what you’re stressing over, there’s a lot in life to feel good about.

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