Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Sleep yourself thin

A while back Channel 4 did a brilliant tv series called Secret Eaters. If you haven't seen it I seriously recommend it (all the episodes are on 4od). The premise of the show is that secret cameras follow two people, both of whom just don't understand why the weight keeps piling on instead of off. Normally they've drastically underestimated their calorie intake in a way that baffles me. One woman believed she was eating 1400 calories a day but was actually eating nearly 5000- that's some serious denial! But, apart from the fun of laughing at the people who omitted the large big mac and fries they had as an afternoon snack from their food diaries, the real hidden gems in the show were the experiments run into dieting.

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In one episode, Dawn Porter and her team investigated the effects of a disrupted nights sleep on weight loss. They took two groups, invited to the clinic under the premise of a bogus experiment, and whilst one group was allowed a perfect nights sleep the other was woken every few hours. The group who had a seriously disturbed nights sleep ate 35% more the next day!

Now this experiment became particularly relevant to me on Monday night. I had work at 7am on Tuesday so I called it a night at 11 on Monday in the hopes of a good nights sleep. Unfortunately, the house next door to me had other ideas, hosting a raging house party (which may I add was still ongoing when I was leaving for work). Seriously exhausted then, I spent the entirety of the day with the worst junk food cravings i've had in a long while. Just the thought of high fat food made me salivate. I can only compare it to that desperate need to carb up when your hungover. Not only was I craving quick fix sources of energy, the thought of going to the gym made me want to cry. I actually ended up having a two hour nap after work before I dragged myself onto a treadmill!

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Indeed, countless studies have found the same results as me and secret eaters. One study found that people who get 7 hours of sleep a night are 30% more likely to be obese than those who get nine hours. Lack of sleep can make you gain weight by causing you to eat more and exercise less! If you're tired you are far more likely to reach for a fast source of energy, such as chocolate. On top of this, chances are that you will opt to collapse onto the sofa rather than head to the gym. Even worse, the sleep deprivation is likely to leave you unmotivated to cook and so takeaway, or a ready meal, become likely options.

Susan Zafarlotfi PHD said "Sleep dept is like credit card debt. If you keep accumulating credit card debt you will pay high interest rates or your account will be shut down until you pay it all off. If you accumulate too much sleep dept, your body will crash."

A particularly interesting study by Walker et al, published in the Journal of Natural Communications looked at the brain of people who had been sleep deprived compared to those who hadn't when viewing images of foods. They found that depriving people of sleep had a huge impact on the way their brain responded to high-calorie junk food. Junk food stimulated a stronger response in the areas of the brain which motivates us to eat, whilst simultaneously depleting activity in the frontal cortex where rational decisions are made. Participants were asked to rate the pictures of food and told they'd be given one of the ones they rated the highest to eat. On average, the foods they requested when sleep deprived were 600 calories HIGHER than the food they desired when well rested.  That's a huge difference!

So what's the solution? If you want to keep your weight down make sure you get a good nights kip! Next time someone moans at you for having a long lie-in in the morning, or being a social pariah and getting an early night, you can tell them with pride that you're serious about your health and fitness and those extra hours in bed are essential. I'm sure this is advice that students and young people everywhere will love!

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Secret Eaters- Channel 4

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