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Less Sleep, More Bulge? Research Finds Link Between Zzz's, Calories

Hope For Gorilla, flickr

People having a hard time sleeping often turn to munchies to deal with their insomnia. But is that healthy?

Dr. Cecilia Hillard, a professor of pharmacology and toxicology at the Medical College of Wisconsin, studies the relationship between sleep and caloric intake.

While there are lots of reasons why Americans weigh too much and sleep too little, she says her research is showing that lack of sleep might contribute to our bad eating habits.

Comparing the 1950s to 2010s, the number of hours people sleep has dropped from 10 to less than 7, while the number of obese individuals has gone up.

Hillard strongly believes the numbers are related, it's hard to prove that one causes the other.

Research conducted by Hillard and colleagues uses young, lean males as test subjects, monitoring when they sleep and how much they eat. The subjects reflect on how they feel and if they are hungry. The doctors also measure the blood for a specific indicator, which travels from the gut to the brain to tell it whether the person is full or to eat more.

The results show that the less sleep an individual gets at night, the higher the hunger level is for that person the next day. They also found it took longer for the indicator saying that the person is full to register, which resulted in the person eating more.

For example, Hillard says four hours of sleep (considered sleep deprivation) costs 130 calories, which is a slice of bread. However, to make up for the slow response from the indicators, the person eats much more than required.

Hillard recommends we get more sleep - at least 7 hours a night. Sleep is more important than waking up an hour or two earlier for that morning run, which may bring little benefit on such little sleep. Because of sleep deprivation, our urges to eat get pushed to later in the day, which she says is harder on the body.

Dr. Cecilia Hillard holds a PhD in pharmacology and toxicology. She is the director of the Neuroscience Research Center at the Medical College of Wisconsin.

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Bonnie North
Bonnie joined WUWM in March 2006 as the Arts Producer of the locally produced weekday magazine program Lake Effect.