Sleep important in keeping weight off

The medical journal Sleep recently published a study called Sleep Duration and Body Mass Index in Twins: A Gene-Environment Interaction  that looked at the weight, height and sleeping habits of 484 pairs of fraternal twins and 604 identical twins in their mid 30s.

Neurologist Dr. Nathaniel Watson of the University of Washington Medicine Sleep Center in Seattle led the study, which suggests that genes associated with weight gain go into overdrive when we don’t get enough sleep.

Getting less than seven hours of sleep a night has long been associated with a higher BMI, which suggested that sleeping less triggers these genes to turn on.

The study found that inheriting a high BMI is twice as likely for those who got less sleep than it is for the twins who slept for nine hours or more a night.

There are three factors that drive BMI among twins, according to the study: 1) Shared environment such as parenting and diet 2) Non-shared environment, and 3) Genetics.

Genetics accounted for 33 per cent of how long the twins slept, according to Watson.

Previous studies have also shown that BMI can be influenced by genetic factors such as energy use, satiety and glucose metabolism.

Sleeping alone won’t make you lose weight, but alongside physical exercise and a balanced diet, it can be more important than genetics in determining body weight, researchers say.

Here are a few tips to help you achieve adequate sleep:

Maintain a regular sleep schedule

The internal or “circadian” clock in our brain regulates our sleep-wake cycle. Maintaining a regular waking time in the morning strengthens the circadian function, helping us to fall asleep easily at the same time each night.

Pay attention to what you eat

Going to bed either hungry or full can both cause discomfort that will keep you awake. Similarly, drinking too much before bed can lead to waking up for multiple trips to the  bathroom. Stimulants like caffeine and nicotine also wreak havoc on the body’s ability to shut down for the night, so they are best avoided at least a few hours before bed. Alcohol, though it may initially make you feel tired, prevents the body from achieving the restful REM phase of sleep your body needs to function properly.

Limit daytime naps

If you’re already suffering from insomnia or poor sleep habits, daytime naps can make these problems even worse. If you do choose to nap, keep it short – 10 to 30 minutes max – and stick to midafternoon.

Create an environment conducive to sleep

Our bodies fall asleep fastest in a cool, dark environment free of noise. Black out curtains, eye masks, ear plugs, fans, humidifiers and other devices can all help contribute to creating an environment that is pleasant to sleep in. Turning the heat in your home down before bed is always a good idea. A comfortable bed that hasn’t overstayed its welcome in your home is also vital – if your mattress is more than a decade old it is time to upgrade to something more supportive.

Exercise regularly 

It helps you fall asleep quicker, and contributes to sounder sleep. Be mindful of when you exercise though, as doing so right before bed can make sleep more difficult. Regular late afternoon exercise is the best option for contributing to a consistent sleep schedule.

Sources: Sleep Journal, Mayo Clinic, Sleep Foundation 

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