Richard G. Petty, MD

Sleep, Weight, Insulin Resistance and Diabetes

I am often asked why there seem to be such close links between food and mood. Not just comfort eating, or the sudden shock of lots of carbs when we need an energy jolt, but why drugs that alter mood so often alter appetite?

You will probably not know this, gentle reader, but I only learned of it from reading scholarly papers. Apparently many people report that using marijuana makes them very hungry. On the other hand, cocaine and amphetamine affect not just the metabolism, but also appetite. The link has to do with the evolutionary development of feeding behaviors with the motivation to find food and to be satisfied by it.

Another link that has interested me for many years is the connection between metabolism and sleep. We have always presumed that this link has to do with hibernation: even humans have maintained some hibernation responses.

There is extremely good evidence that there is an inverse relationship between the number of hours that you sleep and an increase in your weight. There have been a great many studies on this, but one of the best was published by a group of researchers from the Mood and Anxiety Disorders Program, at the National Institute of Mental Health, the Psychiatric University Hospital, Zurich, Switzerland; University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and the Department of Psychosocial Medicine, Zürich University Hospital, Switzerland in the Journal Sleep in 2004.

A report from the BBC concerning a study presented to the American Thoracic Society International Conference in San Diego provides yet more evidence of this link between sleep and weight. Researchers from Case Western Reserve University in Ohio, followed nearly 70,000 women for 16 years. They found that women who slept five or fewer hours a night were a third more likely to put on at least 33lbs (15kg) than sound sleepers during that time. It also found that compared with women who slept for seven hours a night. lighter sleepers were 15% more likely to become obese (have a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 30 or more. {BMI is calculated by dividing your weight in kilograms by the square of your height in meters}).

Previous studies, some of which I have reported before, have shown that after just a few days of sleep restriction, the hormones that control appetite cause people to become hungrier. However the women in the study appeared to eat less. I say “appeared to,” since the use of personal evaluations of food intake are notoriously inaccurate.

In dozens of countries arond the world, I am regarded as an authority in the fields of endocrinology, metabolism and nutrition. But when a group of us tried to estimate our daily intake and compare it with meticulous diaries, we discovered that we – a group of internationally renowned experts – were off by around 500 calories per day.

All kinds of explanations have been advanced, from people who didn’t sleep getting up and binge eating; to the effects of sleep-deprived people craving high carbohydrate, high fat food; to insomnia being a result of anxiety or depression that releases hormones that cause us to lay down fat in our tummies.

For all kinds of complex biochemical reasons, I have always felt that a lack of sleep would lead to an increase in insulin resistance, that may cause an increase in the deposition of fat in key regions of the body.

Some new research suggests that I may have been right on this one. A group based at Yale University School of Medicine, in New Haven, Connecticut has just published a report that should be of interest to all of us, and in particular you multi-tasking insomniacs out there.

The investigators studied a cohort of men from the Massachusetts Male Aging Study who did not have diabetes at baseline (1987–1989) and who were followed until 2004 to look for the development of diabetes mellitus. They came to the conclusion that BOTH very short and extra long sleep durations increase the risk of developing diabetes, independent of confounding factors.

The take home message?

If you do not get 7-8 hours sleep each night, you are vulnerable to a great many problems, and perhaps the biggest of all is the risk of weight gain, insulin resistance and diabetes mellitus.

I do not recommend using sleeping tablets unless absolutely necessary, and then for just a few days at a time. Instead follow all the sleep strategies that I have talked about in earlier blog entries.

During a recent visit to Danville, Virginia, I was delighted to learn that one of the non-pharmacological approaches that I have found helpful – putting a cold compress on the abdomen – was used by General Stonewall Jackson who used this very technique that I had to learn by going all the way to China.

The bottom line? Before your sleep gets disrupted by being  overweight and you develop sleep apnea, try some simple sleep hygiene, and a few of these novel techniques.

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About Richard G. Petty, MD
Dr. Richard G. Petty, MD is a world-renowned authority on the brain, and his revolutionary work on human energy systems has been acclaimed around the globe. He is also an accredited specialist in internal and metabolic medicine, endocrinology, psychiatry, acupuncture and homeopathy. He has been an innovator and leader of the human potential movement for over thirty years and is also an active researcher, teacher, writer, professional speaker and broadcaster. He is the author of five books, including the groundbreaking and best selling CD series Healing, Meaning and Purpose. He has taught in over 45 countries and 48 states in the last ten years, but spends as much time as possible on his horse farm in Georgia.

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