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Sleep More, Weigh Less

Sleep More, Weigh Less

Lots of weight loss products promise miracles. One in particular that I recall says a magic pill lets you lose weight while you sleep. Now, groundbreaking new studies are revealing that you don’t even need a mystical (and questionable) potion to lose weight while sleeping; what women in particular need is sleep itself for effortless weight loss. (Do you know of an easier way to lose weight than indulging in lots of restful sleep?) There’s one caveat though: women need to sleep enough hours to reap the rewards; skimp on sleep and the converse occurs–you’re more likely to put on pounds.

Counting Zzzzzz’s
Are women really more prone to put on pounds when they don’t get enough sleep? Absolutely, says Sanjay Patel, M.D., the lead investigator of the study that revealed the link. To come to this unexpected conclusion, Dr. Patel and his team conducted the largest study of its kind. Starting in 1986, they began to track the sleep habits of almost 70,000 middle-aged women; at the same time, they linked the number of hours each slept each night to weight gain. The sleep-less, weigh-more link was there at the start of the study: women who slept 5 hours or less nightly already weighed about 5.4 pounds more than those who managed seven hours or more each night. Over the next 10 years, the more sleep-deprived women gained an average of 1.6 pounds yearly. While this may not seem like much, over a period of 10 years, this could mean 16 added pounds, or 32 pounds over a 20-year period.

Over the course of the 16-year study, the researchers found that about 33% of women who sleep five hours or less per night are at greatest risk for weight gain. Specifically, these women gained 33 pounds or more over time, while 15% of them gained even more weight and became obese. In comparison, 12% of the women who sleep just one hour more each night for an average of six hours are likely to gain weight, with 6% becoming obese; those who typically manage 7 hours or more nightly gained the least weight.

Womens’ Sleepless World
If you’re a woman and you find it difficult to get to sleep or stay asleep, you have a lot of company. When the National Sleep Foundation conducted a national poll, they found that 67 percent of women experience some kind of sleep problem. There can be lots of reasons for this, but a key culprit seems to be the hormonal mix that occurs between first pregnancy through menopause (which is generally between our twenties into our fifties). During this time, hormone shifts can lead to changes in mood that range from calmness to high-pitched anxiety. The hormone link? Naturally occurring low levels of progesterone can especially lead to a sense of “being on edge.” Add a “you-can-have-it-all” sensibility that permeates our culture, and you have a recipe for sleeplessness.

Fight Fat with Sleep
Luckily, there are ways to work with too little sleep, and in the process, lower the odds of weight gain. First, put “worry mode” on pause. If ruminating on problems is causing sleep deprivation, write your worries on a piece of paper and decide on a specific time–the next day–when you’ll give them some attention. Other suggestions: sip some soothing chamomile tea, or read a relaxing book before going to sleep. Discover what works best for you, then commit to sleeping 7 hours nightly, the number of hours experts suggest for women to ward off weight gain.

Deborah Kesten, MPH, was the nutritionist on Dean Ornish, MD’s first clinical trial for reversing heart disease through lifestyle changes–without drugs or surgery, and Director of Nutrition on similar research in cardiovascular clinics in Europe. With a specialty in preventing and reversing overweight and heart disease, she is the award-winning author of The Enlightened Diet: 7 Weight Loss Solutions That Nourish Body, Nourishing the Soul Body, Mind, and Soul; and The Healing Secrets of Food. Call her at 415.810.7874 to learn more about her health and healing coaching, or visit her at to take her FREE What’s Your Eating Style? Quiz, and to learn more about her Whole Person Nutrition Program for wellness, weight loss, heart-health, coaching, and books. provides content and community for who you aspire to be–personally, socially and globally.

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By Deborah Kesten, MPH, Intent

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6:33AM PST on Jan 22, 2010

would agree with this

6:07PM PST on Jan 10, 2010

Look into Chelated Magnesium, 5-HTP(also good for depression), L-Theanine(also good for anxiety) or Relora(also good for stress, weight loss). All natural and Very Effective. Valerian never worked for me w/o groginess. Available at most health food stores or go to and use code SOH355 for $5.00 off.

2:40PM PDT on Jun 24, 2009

I have troubles with insomnia, and the only things I've found to work for me are the following: California Poppy, a drop of mandarin ess. oil on my palms & soles, earplugs & eye mask, meditation, hypnosis, and acupuncture.

May be worth a try if you're having problems too, and realize it's far from just weight we need to worry about if we're not sleeping. And either way, good luck to y'all!

2:56PM PDT on Jun 19, 2009

I worked shift work for 14 yrs with sleep deprivation and finally found Melatonin worked. Check it out. And yes, I moved to the spare bedroom due to my wife's snoring. I sleep way better now ( except for the occasional vibrating walls!) Cheers, Tommy

1:54PM PDT on Jun 19, 2009

Natalia, I sympathize with you... Sleeping in separate bedrooms was the best solution that we have found with my husband. Moreover, our relationship has been a lot better since we moved into separate beds.

11:40AM PDT on Jun 19, 2009

Could it be that whilst sleeping you haven't got your head in the fridge?

8:57AM PDT on Jun 19, 2009

And I have problem with sleep because my husband breathes heavily and noisily through the nose... should I change husband? :

8:43AM PDT on Jun 19, 2009

Laura L: I recently (like 2 years ago) got a new mattress. I went to the mattress store and the guy pointed out to my friend "She's got very little body fat, she will need a pillowed mattress". He was right. I have many physical problems due to massive injuries from a car crash 15 years ago, but I can finally wake up NOT in pain!

On the other hand, 1 full time job, a bunch of other jobs, lots-o-bills ... I'm lucky when I get 5 hrs of sleep a night.

I was told that napping during the day causes one to sleep less the following night. I do not have the experience of that happening. I'm tired; I nap on the bus to/from work.

8:01AM PDT on Jun 19, 2009

Tatiana, definately change jobs, your health is worth more...nightshifts should be made illeagal in my opinion, they are so unhealthy...brightest blessings!

7:15AM PDT on Jun 19, 2009

I agree completely with all that's said in the article, but for any poor folk, such as Laura, I wonder if getting some sleep in the afternoon would help make up the loss at night? I'd love it if someone could answer that. A good idea with the worry notes rather than sleeping on them.

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
Care2, Inc., its employees or advertisers.

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