Hottest summer on record is what I have been hearing, and I have been enjoying every day of it. Perhaps a little too much. All the BBQ, burgers and beer have left me feeling a little plump. To get back to Springtime svelte, logic would point to eating better right? But I am a fatigue and sleep guy, and, what is it they say…”if your tool is a hammer, you treat everything like a nail?”, so I look for solutions in fatigue and sleep. Plus, I’d like to squeeze in a few more BBQ’s and this makes eating better a less desirable option.
All the old sleep textbooks talk about the unhealthy diets of shift-workers and how their daytime sleep disturbs their circadian rhythms and they gain weight. Newer research is going deeper and trying to understand how sleep affects energy intake and energy expenditure. A study by the team at the Sleep and Chronobiology Lab at the University of Colorado suggests the amount of time you are awake is related to the amount of food you eat. This makes sense, when you are awake you move more, you think more and you burn more energy than when you are asleep. If you are awake for a larger portion of the day, you need more food to keep going. But if you are burning the energy, then why did they also find that after only five days of getting a maximum of five hours of sleep did people gain up to 2.8 lbs? One of the reasons you gain weight when you don’t get enough sleep is that when you are fatigued it is harder to stop yourself from eating when food is readily available. You eat more than you need for the extra time awake. The most difficult time to fight the urge to eat is in the evening after dinner. Can you relate? Sitting there relaxing in front of the TV about an hour after dinner, that’s when the ice cream and potato chips come out at our place. I can relate.
Five days is one work week long. If you don’t get enough sleep across a whole year of work weeks, this could mean an increase of 11.4 lbs every month or over 100 lbs extra every year!
The relationship is clear, you gain weight if you don’t sleep enough. What about the opposite relationship? Can I use sleep to counteract the Summer of BBQ, burgers and beer? Thankfully, yes. The Colorado team’s research found that you eat less when you get enough sleep. Moving back to a full night of sleep, that means sleeping up to nine hours per night, can help you lose up to 1.2 lbs in five days. Notice that you lose weight at a slower rate than you gain (1.2 lbs vs. 2.8 lbs per week). I suspect this contributes to the gradual increase in our weight over the years of work weeks. You gain weight during the work week when you don’t sleep enough and you lose weight on your days off when you sleep more. I have a few pounds to shed, and as the BBQ season slows down, I will get back on track to my normal amount of sleep and return to my baseline weight.
If you are thinking about using sleep to help you lose weight and return to your baseline, here are a few articles providing tips to increase your sleep time:
 See Law of the Instrument: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Law_of_the_instrument
 Markwald, R., Melanson, E., Smith, M., Higgins, J., Perreault, L., Eckel, R., & Wright, K. (2013). Impact of insufficient sleep on total daily energy expenditure, food intake, and weight gain. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 110(14), 5695-5700.
 Normal sleep ranges from six to nine hours per night: http://sleepanddreams.com/?p=1760