Your (Lack of a) Bedtime May Be to Blame for Your Bigger Belly

Whoever said 'you snooze, you lose' got it completely wrong.

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If you're regularly hitting the hay past your bedtime, chances are you're also at odds with the number on your bathroom scale.

More research has found a link between getting less than seven hours of snoozing and potential weight gain: In a November 2016 review of studies published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers found that not getting enough zzzs can actually lead us to consume more calories the next day — an average of 385 calories more, to be precise. Plus, when study participants slept less, the researchers found, they also tended to make less healthy food choices and opt for foods that were higher in fat and lower in protein. Yikes.

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These findings come about a year after another study, this time from the University of California Berkeley, that discovered a link between sleep deprivation and weight gain. After analyzing data from more than 3,300 adolescents and adults, the researchers found something pretty stunning: Over about five years, people gained 2.1 BMI points for every hour of sleep they lost. Considering a healthy adult BMI is between 18.5 and 24.9, a two-point gain is nothing to sneeze (err... snooze?) at.

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When it comes to the sleep-weight connection, it's not so much about the time on the clock but the amount of time you spend with your head on your pillow, says Michael J. Breus, PhD, clinical psychologist with a specialty in sleep disorders and author of The Sleep Doctor's Diet Plan: Lose Weight Through Better Sleep.

"Now what we're talking about here is sleep deprivation, which is individual." He gives his and his wife's sleeping habits as an example: "I'm a six-and-a-half hour sleeper, my wife is an eight-and-a-half hour sleeper. If she sleeps for six-and-a-half hours, she's deprived. If I sleep six-and-a-half, I'm right on the money," he says. "However, we can make a general comment by saying that people who are getting less than six-and-a-half hours of sleep a night are, more than likely, exhibiting some form of sleep deprivation."

And this lack of serious snooze time can send your hormones into a tailspin, which, in turn, causes your BMI to surge.

"When we look at hormonal imbalance, there are four major things that happen in the body," says Dr. Breus. First, the hormone ghrelin increases by 20 percent. "I call this one the 'go' hormone because it's the hormone that tells you to go eat."

Then there's leptin, the hormone that signals when it's time to stop eating, which decreases by 15 percent. Cortisol, sometimes referred to as the stress hormone, is also on the rise, turning on the hunger switch.

And lastly, your metabolism becomes sluggish. "The reasoning behind this, we believe, is to save resources," explains Breus. "Your brain is saying, 'Wow, I'm still awake. I don't know why, but I better hold onto my resources because I might need them. Who knows? There might be a situation where I have to run.' So now look at the scenario — too much 'go,' not enough 'stop,' high appetite and a slow metabolism. This is why you're gaining weight."

5 Easy Ways to Get More Sleep

This may sound like a nightmare, but the good news is you can reverse this trend by simply turning off the lights and going night-night earlier.

"[There are] five steps anyone can do for better sleep," says Breus:

  1. Stick to a schedule. "Go to bed and wake up at the same time, even on the weekends, because that consistency will help you fall asleep faster and sleep better."
  2. Stop consuming caffeine by 2 p.m. "That doesn't mean you can't have 'real' coffee, it just needs to come to an end by 2 p.m."
  3. Stop consuming alcohol at least three hours before bedtime.
  4. Stop exercising about four hours before bedtime.
  5. Get 15 minutes of morning sunshine. "Sunlight resets your circadian clock, which is the pace maker that helps you go to sleep and stay asleep," he explains. "So by getting 15 minutes of sunlight each morning, you can help keep your body on schedule."

Sweet dreams (of whittled waistlines)!

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