One Way To Combat The Muffin Top Is With More Z’s

Night owls that are trying to lose a few pounds or maintain a healthy weight might be their own worst enemy if they are staying up late and getting up early.  In the largest study of healthy adults to date, the Perelman School of Medicine and University of Pennsylvania have discovered that adults that stay up late at night are more susceptible to weight gain due to the amount of calories they consume during the late evening hours.


The study looked at healthy adults that go to bed after midnight and get five or fewer hours of sleep on a typical night.  The study included 225 healthy non-obese adults ranging in age from 22 to 50 years old.  The adults were divided into two groups.  One group went to bed at 4 am and awoke at 8 am. The other group was asked to sleep for 10 hours per night, from 10 pm to 8 am.

Both groups were served regular meals during the day at scheduled times and food was available in the kitchen for participants who wanted to eat at other times throughout the day or night and were asked to refrain from exercise.  They had access to T.V. video games and other sedentary activities throughout the study which lasted 18 days.

Researchers found that the adults that were limited to four hours of sleep a night consumed considerably more calories due to the additional meals they ate during the late night hours. In addition, the calories consumed from fat was higher at night than it was during other times of the day.

Andrea Spaeth, a doctoral candidate in the psychology department at the University of Pennsylvania said that although previous studies have linked short sleep patterns to weight gain and obesity, “we were surprised to observe significant weight gain during an in-laboratory study.”

Researchers found that the men gained more weight than the women and African-Americans gained more weight than Caucasians.

Sleep Deprivation and Fat Cells

Even if you’re not consuming fat-laden, high calorie foods when you burn the midnight oil, sleep deprivation does a number on your fat cells.  Studies show that they become sluggish – just like the brain does – when they are deprived of rest.

In one study researchers removed fat cells from the abdomen of sleep deprived individuals in a test group and found that the cell’s ability to respond to insulin was reduced by 30% and their insulin levels were about three times higher than those of their well-rested counterparts.

It’s easy to see how, over time, an individual who is getting by on only four to six hours of sleep a night, would have chronically high levels of insulin in their blood stream, and is a precursor to diabetes.

Matthew Brady, senior study author and an associate professor of medicine at the University of Chicago Medical Center said, “It’s always been thought that the primary function of sleep was for the brain, but in addition to the brain, your fat cells also need sleep.  Too little sleep makes you groggy, and the same thing happens on a metabolic level.”

When Sleep Eludes You

We’ve all had the occasional restless night when our body is tired but we are not able to get our brain to shut down so we can actually sleep or we stay up late to work on a project or get  household chores done.

If it happens once awhile it shouldn’t be considered a problem, but chronic insomnia, or pushing yourself to be productive 19 or 20 hours a day in exchange for four or five hours of sleep can result in chronic health issues and diminish your ability to maintain a healthy weight.

These 10 strategies from the American Sleep Association can make getting to bed on time and falling to sleep when you get there a habit.

1.  Go to bed and get up at the same time every day. The more consistent your sleeping patterns are the better.

2.  Avoid naps if possible.  When we take naps it decreases the amount of sleep we need the next night which may make it difficult for us to fall asleep or result in fragmented sleep.

3.  Don’t stay in bed awake for more than 15 minutes.  If you find yourself lying in bed awake for more than 15 minutes, get up and sit in a chair in a dark room.  Don’t turn on the TV, check the cell phone, or look at the internet during this time.  If you have to do this several times in one night, that’s okay.

4.  Don’t watch TV or read in bed.  Both of these lead to associating the bed with wakefulness.

5.  Don’t drink caffeine after noon.  Caffeine impedes your ability to fall asleep and have productive sleep when you do.

6.  Eliminate cigarettes, alcohol, and over-the counter medications which may cause fragmented sleep.

7.  Exercise regularly and preferably before 2 p.m.  Exercise too close to bedtime circulates endorphins into the body which may cause difficult, irritating sleep.

8.  Have a quiet, cool, comfortable bed room.  The temperature in the room should be slightly cool and dark.  This leads to more restful sleep.  Turning a fan on for white noise is okay.

9.  Hide the clock.  If you are a clock-watcher at night, put the clock out of sight.

10. Have a comfortable pre-bedtime routine.  A warm bath or shower, meditation, and quite time before going to bed will all help you fall asleep and stay there.

Getting eight or nine hours of sleep each night is a habit that is worth adopting.  Try putting these tips in place and find out which ones are most effective for you.

Over To You

What keeps you up at night?  Late movies, a book you can’t put down, or a project at work that your mind can’t let go of?  Be Social!  Share!