Research Links Sleep Loss to Weight Gain

According to a recent study conducted by CIRCADIAN, a Stoneham, Mass.-based provider of fatigue risk management systems specializing in training and assisting shift workers and their managers, weight gain is correlated to a lack or loss sleep. Being overweight or obese is one of the biggest health risks shift workers face, the study says, citing research conducted in 2000 that found employees gain an average of nine pounds after starting a night shift schedule.

”No one’s sure why that happens, but it's thought to be influenced by limited food choices on the night shift, eating at the wrong times of day, and having limited time and energy for exercise. And now research is pointing to another culprit: sleep loss,” the study says.

CIRCADIAN notes that scientists have known for years that shift workers suffer both from sleep loss and weight gain to a greater degree than the general population and posits that the two conditions feed each other. Sleep loss influences appetite and hunger by altering the levels of hormones that regulate hunger, causing an increase in appetite and a preference for the very foods that can contribute to weight gain—namely those that are high in calories and carbohydrates. “Sleep loss may also interfere with the body’s ability to metabolize carbohydrates, resulting in high levels of glucose in the bloodstream. Excess blood glucose promotes overproduction of insulin--which, in turn, promotes the storage of body fat--and can also lead to insulin resistance, a precursor of adult-onset diabetes,” the study says.

Training shift workers periodically on nutrition, exercise, and (for night shift workers) how get sufficient rest during the daytime can help, the study concludes. Managers should emphasize that even simple exercise, such as walking 30 minutes a day a few times a week, will help workers keep their weight down. Wellness and incentive programs and periodic sleep disorder screenings can also help, the company says. For more information, visit www.circadian.com.

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