Research Proven Weight Loss: Sleep

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Sleep can help you lose weight and avoid obesity and cravings. 

Sleeping Child

Sleeping Child

We all know that sleep is essential for optimal health.  We do not function efficiently without enough sleep, and we are just plain grumpy if our sleep is interrupted, but we still fail to get enough good quality sleep.  Our busy lifestyle in the digital age just seems to get in the way of 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep.  So does a lack of sleep have any effect on obesity?

To understand the study, you have to know a little about sleep.  There are five stages to sleep, but for simplicity sake, we will only discuss Rapid Eye Movement (REM or stage 5) and non-REM (stages 1-4) sleep.  All phases are important, but the most important stage of sleep is Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep.  You can function without REM sleep, but it is essential for learning complex tasks and may hinder your ability to perform them efficiently.  
REM sleep the phase of sleep in mammals associated with dreaming and characterized by random eye movement and near complete paralysis of the body.  You may have seen this stage in a pet inch which you see their eyes appear to twitch.  They often make noises and have paw movements as they dream during REM sleep.  

REM sleep the phase of sleep in mammals associated with dreaming and characterized by random eye movement and near complete paralysis of the body. You may have seen this stage in a pet inch which you see their eyes appear to twitch. They often make noises and have paw movements as they dream during REM sleep.

Insomnia

Insomnia

The medial prefrontal cortex may play a role in controlling our desire for the palatability of foods through taste, smell, and texture. People who are obese have increased activity in the prefrontal cortex when exposed to high-calorie foods. You can clearly see how the prefrontal cortex could play a role in craving and overeating.

One study looked at highly palatable foods consumption while the prefrontal cortex becomes inactivated and REM sleep loss occurs.  As a result, the researchers discovered that inhibiting these prefrontal cortex neurons reversed the effect of REM sleep loss on sucrose consumption while having no effect on fat consumption.  The also study found that REM sleep loss increased highly palatable foods consumption compared to control animals.  However, prefrontal cortex inactivation reversed the effect of REM sleep loss on sucrose consumption without affecting fat consumption. The results suggest that the medial prefrontal cortex may play a direct role in controlling our desire to consume obesity-promoting foods such as high in sucrose content when we have reduced sleep[1].  Reduced REM sleep does not appear to affect fat consumption.  
One study looked at highly palatile foods (HPF) consumption while the prefontal cortex (PFC) was inactivated and REM sleep loss was induced.  As a result, the researchers discovered that inhibiting these PFC neurons reversed the effect of REM sleep loss on sucrose consumption while having no effect on fat consumption.  The also study found that REM sleep loss increased HPF consumption compared to control animals.  However, PFC inactivation reversed the effect of REM sleep loss on sucrose consumption without affecting fat consumption.  Reduced REM sleep does not appear to affect fat consumption.  
Businesswoman Sleeping on the Job

Businesswoman Sleeping on the Job

Another interesting study seems to have confirmed that when sleep is restricted, levels of endocannabinoid 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG) rise.  If the word endocannabinoid does not look familiar, it is a hormone that is cannabis or cannabinoid-like.  When sleep deprived, participants reported increases in hunger and appetite concomitant with the afternoon elevation of 2-AG concentrations and were less able to inhibit intake of palatable snacks.  Our findings suggest that activation of the endocannabinoid system may be involved in excessive food intake in a state of sleep debt and contribute to the increased risk of obesity associated with insufficient sleep[2].

So what does this mean for the average person?  The findings of this study provide a link between REM sleep and overeating these highly palatable foods.  This medial portion of the prefrontal cortex may play a direct role in controlling our desire to consume weight promoting foods, such as those high in sucrose content when we are deficient in REM sleep.  Sure if we could put an electrode in your brain and stimulate the PFC neurons, we could reverse this effect, but you already have a means to do this, and it is called sleep.

Recommendations on sleep to avoid the munchies:

  1. Get enough sleep.  Get atleast 7-8 hours of sleep a night.  
  2. Limit alcohol intake.  Alcohol suppresses REM sleep which is needed to have restful sleep[3].  
Footnotes
[1]McEown et al., “Chemogenetic Inhibition of the Medial Prefrontal Cortex Reverses the Effects of REM Sleep Loss on Sucrose Consumption.”
[2]Hanlon et al., “Sleep Restriction Enhances the Daily Rhythm of Circulating Levels of Endocannabinoid 2-Arachidonoylglycerol.”
[3]Wong et al., “Risk Factors for Probable REM Sleep Behavior Disorder: A Community-Based Study.”
Hanlon, EC, E Tasali, R Leproult, KL Stuhr, E Doncheck, Wit de, CJ Hillard, and Cauter Van. “Sleep Restriction Enhances the Daily Rhythm of Circulating Levels of Endocannabinoid 2-Arachidonoylglycerol.” Sleep 39, no. 3 (March 1, 2016): 653–64. [PubMed]
McEown, K, Y Takata, Y Cherasse, N Nagata, K Aritake, and M Lazarus. “Chemogenetic Inhibition of the Medial Prefrontal Cortex Reverses the Effects of REM Sleep Loss on Sucrose Consumption.” eLife 5 (December 6, 2016). [PubMed]
Wong, JC, J Li, M Pavlova, S Chen, A Wu, S Wu, and X Gao. “Risk Factors for Probable REM Sleep Behavior Disorder: A Community-Based Study.” Neurology 86, no. 14 (April 5, 2016): 1306–12. [PubMed]
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About the Author

ChuckH

I am a family physician who has served in the US Army. In 2016, I found myself overweight, out of shape, and unhealthy, so I made a change to improve my health. This blog is the chronology of my path to better health and what I have learned along the way.

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