Want to improve your diet? Try to get better sleep.

In recent years, researchers have discovered that our sleep habits have a significant impact on the amount and type of food we eat, and even whether we gain or lose body fat. Lack of sleep triggers brain and hormonal changes that stimulate appetite, causing us to eat more calories, especially unhealthy foods rich in fat and sugar.

If you’re among the millions of adults who suffer from chronic insomnia, research suggests Getting an extra hour of sleep each night can lead to better eating habits And it can even help you lose weight.

For many people, getting a good night’s rest is difficult. Sleep experts say the average adult should get at least seven hours of sleep. Christmas At least 1 in 3 adults He fails to get enough shut-eye on a regular basis. Some people snooze to stay up late while working or surfing the web. Millions of adults struggle with sleep-disrupting conditions such as chronic insomnia, sleep apnea, or restless legs syndrome.

Understanding the factors that influence your daily food decisions is a critical step in improving your overall health. Every Tuesday, the Eating Lab explores the various biological and cultural forces that influence our eating habits. And how much sleep at night, many studies now show, is big.

Why bad sleep can cause you to eat more

Studies show, for example, that chronic poor sleep paves the way for weight gain. Studies have shown that for women a A few nights of short sleep reduces GLP-1 levelsA hormone that indicates satisfaction. In men, lack of sleep causes an increase in the hunger-stimulating hormone, ghrelin.

At the same time, people with insomnia experience changes in their brain activity. Research shows that when a person is sleep deprived, the region of the brain is involved in pleasure seeking and reward It reacts more strongly to junk food It creates a stronger urge to indulge in fattening foods, such as candy, donuts and pizza. and insomnia Reduces movement In other parts of the brain that control food intake It is more difficult for people to control themselves..

“The overwhelming evidence is that people eat more when they restrict sleep,” said Marie-Pierre Saint-Onge, associate professor of nutrition medicine at Columbia University Irving Medical Center and director of the Sleep Center of Excellence at Columbia.

Last year, a group of researchers Data were analyzed from 36 studies which included several hundred thousand participants. They found that people who regularly slept less than seven hours a day were 26 percent more likely to be obese than those who got the recommended amount of sleep.

One caveat is that this analysis only shows the relationship between poor sleep and weight gain. To better understand the relationship between sleep and diet, scientists have conducted clinical trials recruiting healthy adults and tracking their eating habits as they limit a night’s sleep.

One experiment showed people falling asleep. 5½ hours a night will burn an extra 300 calories a day over a two-week period, mostly snacks like pretzels, cookies, chips, ice cream and candy. When St-Onge analyzed several of these tests, he found that people burned 300 to 550 calories more on sleep-deprived days than on days when they slept an average of seven hours or more.

Abdominal fat ‘proliferation’

Perhaps most surprising, lack of sleep appears to promote particularly dangerous body fat.

In a study published earlier this year in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, scientists discovered that when Healthy adults get only four hours of sleep a night Over the course of two weeks, the participants not only ate more and gained weight, but also experienced an “expansion” in abdominal fat, especially visceral fat around internal organs such as the kidneys, liver and intestines.

to live High levels of visceral fat increase the risk of heart diseaseType 2 diabetes and many cancers.

How to improve your diet for better sleep

The good news for chronic insomniacs is that you can reverse the damage caused by sleep deprivation to your diet and waistline. In a study published earlier this year in JAMA Intern Medicine, scientists recruited 80 overweight adults who slept an average of six hours a day. One group was given advice on how to get more sleep. The other group received no additional information and served as a control.

Counseling sessions were an important part Train people to stay away from their smartphones and electronic devices When you get ready for bed. “Essentially, we were teaching people how to live without their electronics before going to sleep,” said Isra Tassali, a study author and director of the University of Chicago’s Sleep Research Center.

Then the researchers follow the groups for two weeks. People in the counseling group reported sleeping 1.2 hours a day and reducing their food intake by 270 calories a day – despite not being given any dietary advice. Compared to the control group, they also lost less weight, and reported feeling better and having more energy.

“You learn that it’s okay not to respond to every text an hour before you go to bed,” Tasali said.

According to Columbia Saint-Onge, everyone should aim for a total of seven hours of sleep a night. You know you’re getting enough sleep if you wake up feeling well-rested and not constantly groggy and tired.

The key is to adjust your device and go to bed at a reasonable time. “Some people only need six hours of sleep, while others need six and a half hours,” St-Onge added. “But I doubt anyone is better off with five hours of sleep.”

Have a question about healthy eating? email EatingLab@washpost.com And we will answer your question in the next column.

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