Research shows that lifestyle factors – beyond food and activity habits – contribute to obesity. Shift workers getting too little sleep at the wrong time of day may be increasing their risk of diabetes and obesity, according to new research showing that changes in normal sleep patterns can cause the body to struggle with controlling its sugar levels and slows metabolism. Previous studies have shown that shift workers and people who consistently do not get enough sleep have high levels of fat in their blood. Research has also shown that people with altered sleep patterns or who don’t regularly get enough sleep are more likely to be obese and develop diabetes or metabolic syndrome (a cluster of conditions that are associated with increased risk of heart disease).
For the study, researchers from Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School recruited 21 healthy adults to stay in their laboratory while they adjusted their sleeping patterns and recorded changes in their bodies. The study lasted 6 weeks, beginning with an initial period of normal sleep (10 hours nightly). After the normal sleep, the participants underwent three weeks of restricted sleep, (less than six hours per 24-hour cycle). Their sleep patterns were also disrupted similar to that of a shift worker. Lastly, they underwent a recovery period, with nine days of normal sleeping.
The researchers found that during the sleep deprivation and body clock disruption period, the participants’ resting metabolic rate slowed and their post-meal blood sugar levels increased, at times high enough to be considered pre-diabetic. The slowing in metabolism was enough to add 10 pounds to an individual over the course of a year. However, after the final recovery period, the researchers found that these metabolic abnormalities returned to normal. “This study shows that you can control your own destiny in some way by disordering your own sleep. People could make beneficial or harmful modifications that might affect their own metabolism,” commented Dr. Loren Wissner Greene, a clinical associate professor of medicine at NYU Langone Medical Center.
Getting adequate sleep, proper nutrition, and physical activity are important for good health and weight loss. You can learn more about The N.E.W. Program’s comprehensive approach to weight loss here.