Getting enough sleep following a counseling intervention led to a lower caloric intake among overweight adults who usually didn’t sleep enough, according to a new study published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine.
In recent years, the role of sleep in metabolic health — including blood glucose control — has become increasingly clear. Sleeping well has been linked to a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes, and it may also help with blood glucose control in people who have diabetes. Not getting enough sleep has also been linked to increased sugar consumption in teenagers, indicating that sleep plays an important role in food cravings and appetite regulation. But while weight loss can help with sleep quality in people with obstructive sleep apnea, there haven’t been many studies looking at the role that sleep plays in food consumption and body weight.
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One reason there haven’t been more studies on sleep duration and body weight is that it’s difficult to know the direction of causality in many study designs — in other words, whether how much you sleep affects your calorie consumption or body weight, or whether your food consumption or body weight affects how much you sleep. For the latest study, researchers got around this problem by designing it as a randomized controlled trial based on a sleep counseling intervention. This design also made the study potentially more meaningful for real-world applications, since simply knowing you should sleep more doesn’t mean it’s something you can actually do — but health care providers could potentially refer people to sleep counseling based on proven benefits.
The study’s participants were 80 overweight adults, ages 21 to 40, with a habit of sleeping less than 6.5 hours per night. After a two-week period of having their sleep duration recorded, participants were randomly assigned to either a sleep counseling intervention group or a control group. Members of the intervention group received an individualized counseling session with the goal of increasing their sleep time to 8.5 hours, while members of the control group were instructed to follow their normal sleep habits. Other than the counseling session on sleep habits for some participants, all participants were told to continue with their daily routines as normal, without any changes recommended to their diet or physical activity.
Increased sleep tied to lower calorie intake, weight loss
The researchers found that during the two weeks following their counseling session, members of the intervention group saw their average sleep duration increase by about 1.2 hours per night. In the control group, there was no change in the average sleep duration. At the same time, members of the intervention group saw their average daily energy intake drop by 270 calories, while there was no change in the control group. No difference in energy expenditure was seen in either group, which means that members of the intervention group experienced weight loss over the two-week period, while members of the control group didn’t see any pattern of overall weight loss.
“This trial found that sleep extension reduced energy intake and resulted in a negative energy balance in real-life settings among adults with overweight who habitually curtailed their sleep duration,” the researchers concluded. “Improving and maintaining healthy sleep duration over longer periods could be part of obesity prevention and weight loss programs.”