Understanding the underlying causes of obesity and how to prevent it is the best way to fight the obesity epidemic, according to Esra Tasali, MD, Director of the UChicago Sleep Center at the University of Chicago Medicine and Associate Professor of Medicine in the Section of Pulmonary/Critical Care. “The current obesity epidemic, according to experts, is mostly explained by an increase in caloric intake, rather than lack of exercise,” she said.

Now, a new study on how getting sufficient sleep affects caloric intake in a real-world setting could change how we think about weight loss.

In a randomized clinical trial with 80 adults, published February 7 in JAMA Internal Medicine, Tasali and her colleagues at UChicago and the University of Wisconsin–Madison found that young, overweight adults who habitually slept fewer than 6.5 hours a night were able to increase their sleep duration by an average of 1.2 hours per night after a personalized sleep hygiene counseling session. The sleep intervention was intended to extend time in bed duration to 8.5 hours — and the increased sleep duration compared to controls also reduced participants’ overall caloric intake by an average of 270 kcal (calories) per day.

“Over the years, we and others have shown that sleep restriction has an effect on appetite regulation that leads to increased food intake, and thus puts you at risk for weight gain over time,” said Tasali. “More recently, the question that everyone was asking was, ‘Well, if this is what happens with sleep loss, can we extend sleep and reverse some of these adverse outcomes?”

The new study not only examines the effects of sleep extension on caloric intake but, importantly, does so in a real-world setting, with no manipulation or control over participants’ dietary habits. Participants slept in their own beds, tracked their sleep with wearable devices, and otherwise followed their normal lifestyle without any instructions on diet or exercise.

“Most other studies on this topic in labs are short-lived, for a couple of days, and food intake is measured by how much participants consume from an offered diet,” said Tasali. “In our study, we only manipulated sleep, and had the participants eat whatever they wanted, with no food logging or anything else to track their nutrition by themselves.”

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Originally reported in The Forefront 2/7/2022