RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—According to new research just published in the American Journal of Public Health, your dream of slipping into a pair of skinny jeans over the holidays is much more likely to come true if you sleep long enough and well enough to squelch your appetite.
THE DETAILS: Researchers from several Boston-area institutions surveyed 542 truckers (chosen because they often work long hours and have a variety of factors—including irregular shifts, mealtimes, sleep patterns, and accommodations—that influence their sleep duration and quality) working in eight U.S. trucking terminals. What they found was that those truckers who said they got enough sleep to "feel rested upon waking up" reported eating daily, on average, about three servings of fruits and vegetables, less than one serving of a sugary drink, and less than half a serving of a sugary snack. Truckers who said they got insufficient sleep, on the other hand, reported eating just two servings of fruits and veggies, slightly more than one sugary drink, and nearly one sugary snack a day—essentially, a less healthy diet. The researchers conclude: Adequate sleep is associated with more healthful food choices.
WHAT IT MEANS: The less sleep you get, the hungrier you get—and the more likely you are to make bad food choices. "Recent research from both laboratory-based and epidemiological studies indicates that sleep restriction is associated with increased hunger and appetite," says lead study author Orfeu M. Buxton, PhD, an instructor in medicine at Harvard Medical School and an associate neuroscientist at Brigham & Women's Hospital in Boston.
To explain the "why" behind his own study findings, Buxton cites recent research in which people without ample sleep for two nights exhibited elevated appetite and hunger that was strongly linked to increased ghrelin (a chemical hunger signal from the stomach) and lower circulating leptin (a chemical satiety signal from the body's fat cells), which together drive appetite. In other words, lack of sleep doesn't just make you less able to resist temptation or so exhausted you generally slack on your diet—it raises hunger chemically, and so, raises your risk of weight gain, obesity, diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease.
Here's how to get more sleep, so you'll be primed to eat healthy: