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Sleep-less-eat-more connection strengthens

Published May 21. 2012 05:04PM

Painfully obvious, yet potentially effective. That's how you might characterize the following statement.

Eat 550 more calories per day than what you need to maintain your present weight, and you are going to add some. In fact, you should probably gain slightly more than a pound a week for at least the first few months.

It's "painfully obvious" because most already know that 3500 calories constitutes a pound, so eating a weekly excess of 350 calories beyond that for virtually all individuals and all types of foods adds body weight. Whether that increase is pure body fat, mostly muscle mass, or a mix of both is a matter of the types of foods you eat and if, how, and how hard you work out.

It's also "painfully obvious" that an extra 550 calories a day is a considerable amount. For instance, if you normally consume 2000 calories per day the middle-of-the-road figure food processors are mandated to use by the U.S. government to calculate the Percent Daily Values required on the labels of all packaged foods it's an increase of nearly 22 percent.

Imagine eating what you normally do in a normal day and then having 16 ounces of typical vanilla ice cream just before bed. That extra snack would still leave you about 18 cals short of the extra 550 cals.

A Big Mac from McDonald's, a slice of Meat Lovers Stuffed Crust pizza from Pizza Hut, and slightly more than a third of a Mrs. Smith's 8-inch peach pie are also significant portions that fall just short of the 550-cal mark.

Now for the "potentially effective" part. According to findings presented at an American Heart Association conference in March, those extra 550 calories are probably how much you are overeating on days you get less than your required amount of sleep.

Compared to the control group in the study funded by the National Institutes of Health, Minnesota Obesity Center, and the Mayo Clinic, subjects who slept 80 minutes less for eight nights ate an average of 549 extra calories each day. Compounding matters and contrary to what you would expect being awake for an additional 80 minutes did not increase daily caloric burn significantly.

In other words, almost all of those 549 extra calories consumed as a result of sleeping less got stored as fat.

This research should be seen as significant in the ongoing battle against obesity, especially since it seems to validate a series of studies released in 2010 that suggested the sleep-less-eat-more link.

In July of that year, the Journal of Obesity published a Finnish study that tied sleep problems to weight gain in women. Researchers tracked 7,300 middle-aged women for seven years and found those who had what were deemed as significant sleep problems weighed 11 pounds more at the end of the study than the women who reported no sleep problems at the start of the study.

In September of 2010, the journal Sleep reported that in a study of 240 teenagers those who slept less than 8 hours a night ate more than those who slept more than that amount. Additionally, the extra calories came not from larger main meals but from snacks that tended to be less than healthy.

(This issue of Sleep also ran articles linking a lack of sleep to an increased risk of distress and depression in teenagers and a four-times increase in the rate of death in men.)

In October, the Annals of Internal Medicine published a study that revealed a lack of sleep, considered an average of 5.5 hours in bed a night, compromised two-week attempts at weight loss. Compared to dieters sleeping sufficiently, 8.5 hours a night, the 5.5-hour group lost less body fat (what you're hoping to lose on a diet) but more muscle mass (what you're hoping to keep). They also reported feeling hungrier when dieting.

So if you're the type who has always been overweight, struggles in attempts to lose weight, or has a child who is chubby despite being fairly active, you may want to experiment and increase sleep time for you or your child.

While the optimal amount of sleep time is a personal matter, I have found that 7.75 hours of sleep a night (or roughly 8 hours of in-bed time) is the minimum that allows me to work out hard and ward off colds and flu effectively. If I feel really beat from extra-hard training, an extra hour of sleep for two or three nights, rejuvenates me.

But I also believe that you can sleep too much. Sleeping more than 9 hours a night, strangely enough, leaves me feeling lethargic.

While you might need more or less sleep than I do, of this much I am sure. A collective lack of sleep is at least part of the reason why the typical American adult has gained 20 pounds in the last 20 years.

If you want to buck that trend, you need to see sleep as an integral part of your health-and-wellness plan rather than an indulgence or something that only slackers have time for.

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