Fatty, fatty sleep-deprived

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

While most students assume the “frosh 15” is caused by drinking beer and eating pizza, a new study suggests lack of sleep is also a factor in weight gain.

The research, led by Jean-Philippe Chaput of Laval University, compared weight gain among short (five to six hours), average (seven to eight hours) and long (nine to 10 hours) duration sleeper groups.

The 276 adult participants involved in the study were observed over a period of six years. People in the short-duration sleeper group gained about 4.4 lbs more than average sleepers. Long-duration sleepers gained 3.5 lbs more.

Participants in the short sleeper group were also 35 per cent more likely to report a weight gain of over 11 lbs during the six-year period, compared to average sleepers.

Chaput noted students often have short sleep duration due to parties, television, the Internet, and other distractions.

Third-year history student Rachel Anger said her sleep patterns vary. While she averages seven hours a night, Anger said she tends to get less sleep during exams and when stressed.

Should students be concerned about gaining weight due to their lack of sleep? Not necessarily, according to Charles George, chair of the division of respirology at the Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry.

“Students don’t need to worry about their weight,” George said. “It’s very easy to lose weight if you gain any at that age.”

For those students who have noticed a few extra pounds, George stressed a lack of sleep is not the only culprit.

“Sleep doesn’t count more for weight gain than other factors,” he said, citing different eating habits and increased alcohol intake as other reasons.

Students who undersleep tend to stay up later, resulting in late-night hunger pangs. George said there is clear experimental evidence that hunger increases when you are sleep-deprived.

“If you are up late at night and you’re tired, and you eat something, you get an alerting effect ... you’re taking in extra calories and you’re not burning them.”

To maintain healthy body weight and ensure mental alertness, the research recommends sleeping in the seven to eight-hour range each night.

However, individuals also need to determine the amount of sleep that works best for their own body. “We’re all different; to say everybody has to get the same amount of sleep is like saying everyone has to eat the same amount of calories,” George said.

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