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In the study, 225 people whose typical night’s sleep was 6.5 to 8.5 hours long were divided into two groups for seven to nine days and nights: On the first two nights, both groups were allowed 10 to 12 hours of time in bed. On the next five nights, one group had 10 hours in bed per night while the sleep-restricted group was only allowed to be in bed from 4:00 a.m. until 8:00 a.m. Some of the people in the sleep-restricted group were then given an additional two recovery nights in the lab, during which they had 12 hours in bed each night.
While in the lab, the participants were able to request meals, snacks, and drinks from a varied menu as often as they wanted to. They could not exercise but were able to engage in a variety of sedentary activities.
Because of the study location, these results do not tell us for sure what happens to people who chronically miss sleep when at home, where food options may be different and metabolic changes over time may affect weight gain. Still, with the additional evidence from observational studies linking chronic sleep deprivation with obesity, the study’s authors reasoned, “Chronically sleep-restricted subjects with late bedtimes may be more susceptible to weight gain and obesity due to overall greater caloric intake as well as increased consumption during late-night hours.” They also noted that the increase in fat calories consumed during late-night eating may make people who stay up late especially prone to gain weight.
Sleep is important for many aspects of good health, and chronic sleep loss may contribute to problems like heart disease, stroke, diabetes, depression, and obesity. Here are some things to think about if you are trying to control your weight and haven’t been getting enough sleep: