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How irregular sleep can cause you to gain weight

You’re 27 per cent more likely to experience metabolic conditions such as obesity if you fail to establish a regular pattern of sleep. Kate Cracknell explores the findings of a new research study

So many of us find ourselves in an ongoing battle with our weight throughout our lives, whether we’re dieting to try and lose a few pounds or simply doing our best to maintain a more-or-less consistent, healthy weight.

We’ve all spent a lifetime being told to watch what we eat and to exercise regularly – juggling that all-important balance of ‘calories in’ versus ‘calories out’ – and of course, that’s a big part of the equation. But it doesn’t end there.

A new study – conducted among 45- to 84-year-olds – suggests there’s another lifestyle factor we need to bring into the mix. Our sleep.

Keep it regular

In brief, what the researchers found was that a regular sleeping pattern – that is, sticking to a consistent bedtime and wake-up schedule and getting the same amount of sleep each night – could reduce your likelihood of developing metabolic conditions such as obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and high blood sugar.

And the reduction can be a significant one: for every hour of variability in time to bed and time asleep, it was found that an individual could have up to a 27 per cent greater chance of experiencing a metabolic abnormality.

Specifically, increasing sleep duration or bedtime variability was strongly associated with issues such as lower HDL cholesterol, higher levels of triglycerides and fasting glucose – and a higher waist circumference.

And that matters not only in terms of how you look and feel – those few pounds you want to shift – but also because of the associated health risks.

• Waist size isn’t only about the clothes size you have to wear. Having too much fat around the stomach area can raise the risk of heart disease more than fat stored in other areas of the body.

• HDL helps carry cholesterol away from arteries; insufficient HDL can raise the risk of heart disease.

• Consistently high blood pressure can cause plaque to build up in arteries, which in turn leads to heart damage.

• And high levels of fasting blood glucose can be an early sign of diabetes, which in turn dramatically increases the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Every hour matters

“Many previous studies have shown the link between insufficient sleep and higher risk of obesity, diabetes and other metabolic disorders,” concludes study author and Boston-based epidemiologist Tianyi Huang. “But we didn’t know much about the impact of irregular sleep, high day-to-day variability in sleep duration and timing.

“Our research shows that – even after considering the amount of sleep a person gets and other lifestyle factors – every one-hour night-to-night difference in the time to bed or the duration of a night’s sleep multiplies the adverse metabolic effect.”

In short, if you want to keep the weight off – and keep at bay the health risks associated with overweight and obesity – it’s vitally important that you maintain a regular sleep pattern.


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