If you have ever applied for life insurance, you probably know that your weight (relative to your height) is one of the factors insurance companies use to determine the premium you will pay for your policy. If the numbers showing up on your scale are higher than you (or your insurance company) likes to see, you might be interested in a new study that indicates that getting more sleep might actually help you to lose weight.
It has been known by researchers that adults who sleep less that 5 or 6 hours a night are at a higher risk of being overweight than those who sleep 7-9 hours a night. A new study reported in today’s New York Times indicates that the link between lost sleep and weight gain is even more insidious than previously thought. The research found that losing just a few hours of sleep a few nights in a row can lead to almost an immediate weight gain.
In the study conducted by researchers from the University of Colorado, 16 healthy people were tracked for a two week period, with sleep, metabolism and eating habits being closely monitored. The goal of the study was to determine the effects inadequate sleep had on weight, behavior and physiology.
They found that, even though the metabolic rates of the sleep-deprived participants (5 hours of sleep nightly, as opposed to those who slept 9 hours nightly) was higher than those who had adequate sleep, the sleep-deprived group gained an average of two pounds during that week. In the findings published in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, it was revealed that, while the sleep-deprived group burned more calories, their caloric intake was higher due to eating far more than the well-rested group.
In the second week of the study, the groups were reversed and the group that were the “sleepers” in the first week were now restricted to 5 hours a night. Lo and behold, they also gained weight during their sleep-deprived week. The group that was now sleeping well lost some weigh in the second week (although they didn’t lose all of the weight they had gained).
The director the the University’s sleep and chronobiology laboratory, Kenneth Wright, indicated that behavior accounted for some of the change. As anyone who has ever been a college student can attest, staying up late and getting reduced sleep leads one to not only eat more, but also to eat differently. “We found that when people weren’t getting enough sleep, they overate carbohydrates,” said Wright. “They ate more food, and when they ate, the food also changed. They ate a smaller breakfast and they ate a lot more after dinner.” The study found that, overall, people consumed 6 percent more calories when they got too-little sleep. Over time, these extra calories will convert to extra pounds.
In my personal experience, weight gain can be a slow and steady process. If you don’t change the behavior that causes the weight gain, one day you step on the scale and see that you have gained 10 – 20 pounds, or more. It seems to me that getting more sleep is a very easy way of changing behavior. After all, nobody’s suggesting you dust off those running shoes and make like Rocky Balboa at 6:00 A.M. every morning. Get more sleep and, who knows, you might start doing that too.
To see how weight can affect your life insurance health class (and rates), visit our Height and Weight Guidelines.