The idea of sleeping yourself thin sounds like the desperate fantasy of a failed dieter. But there’s a basic, common-sense principle behind this idea. Insomniacs are permanently tired, and while coffee works part of the time, eventually cravings for carbs, particularly sugar, take over. Midmorning doughnuts (plural) and afternoon candy bars (likewise) become daily habits.
Sleep studies back up this theory. One found that cutting sleep down to just four hours a night increased levels of ghrelin, a hormone that increases appetite, by 28 percent after only two days, while levels of leptin, a hormone that registers satiety and regulates energy, dropped by 18 percent.
“Not getting enough sleep changes the body’s metabolic process,” says Dr. David Volpi, director of the Manhattan Snoring and Sleep Center. “When we’re tired, we eat more and exercise less because we’re exhausted. Also, being overweight can cause sleep apnea (interrupted breathing), which further disturbs rest.”
One study of 500 overweight adults who underwent a six-month diet and exercise program resulted in 60 percent losing at least 10 pounds, while others lost nothing or put on weight. The people in that 60 percent shared one thing: Each person slept for six to eight hours every night.
Getting back on track with sleep isn’t easy, but it is achievable.
“I’m not a big fan of drugs,” says Dr. Volpi.
It’s much better to tackle underlying causes, which can be stress, anxiety or depression — as well as caffeine, drug or alcohol use. You should also avoid eating sugary foods, particularly chocolate and especially at night.
“Also, don’t go to bed until you’re tired,” adds Dr. Volpi. “Lying there, staring at the ceiling, is only going to make you more anxious.”