Feeling tired? Your lack of rest may be putting you at increased risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes. That’s the conclusion of a new paper, published in The American Journal of Human Biology, that looked at evidence collected from numerous experimental and observational studies. The link was clear: People who got less than six hours of sleep a night were more likely to have a high body mass index (BMI) and be obese. The connection found in the study seems stronger for children and teenagers, which is especially worrisome given the skyrocketing rates of type 2 diabetes in young people.
“In the United States, 18 percent of adults are estimated to get less than six hours of sleep, which equates to 53 million short sleepers who may be at risk of associated obesity,” said the paper’s author, Dr. Kristen Knutson of the University of Chicago. “Poor sleeping patterns are not random, and it is important to consider the social, cultural, and environmental factors which can cause inadequate sleep so at-risk groups can be identified.”
But how exactly does lack of sleep increase obesity? The paper suggests that lack of sleep affects production of the hormones that make us hungry and tell us when we’re full. Translation: If you don’t sleep, you’re going to feel hungry, and you’re going to want to eat a lot.
“Obesity develops when energy intake is greater than expenditure. Diet and physical activity play an important part in this, but an additional factor may be inadequate sleep,” Knutson said. “A review of the evidence shows how short or poor-quality sleep is linked to increased risk of obesity by deregulating appetite, leading to increased energy consumption.”
Knutson said that most of the available sleep research comes from Western countries, which suggests that more research is needed to tease out the connections between lack of sleep and obesity. Ultimately, scientists will also need to prove the opposite: that sleeping longer and better can improve our health.
At the very least, we could try that option for ourselves. It couldn’t hurt.