Lose Sleep, Gain Weight: Another Piece of the Obesity Puzzle

It’s 11 P.M., and you sit in front of a glowing computer screen, writing e-mails and eating a sandwich. You’ll work until after midnight, when you’ll fall asleep in front of the light and blare of a TV before rising again at 6 A.M. What’s wrong with this picture? Because of modern conveniences and pressures, many of us keep our bodies exposed to light, food, and activity at times when our organs and cells expect dark, quiet, and sleep.

In epidemiologic studies, shorter sleep has been correlated with incidence of obesity, hypertension, and other metabolic disorders. Experimental sleep studies find a similar connection. Increasingly, studies of the possible mechanisms behind these associations suggest that lack of sleep is part of a bigger problem with the 24/7 lifestyle many people today lead. Increasingly, scientists are finding that many physiologic activities

related to metabolism don’t happen continuously but oscillate on a regular schedule. Studies in mice as well as humans suggest that when our internal clock is disrupted, it may throw off many bodily functions, especially metabolism.

Many environmental factors have been shown to contribute to circadian disruption. Noise in busy hospitals, street noise, and airport noise have all been reported to disrupt sleep or reduce its quality. Research in animals and humans shows that exposure to light during early biological night resets the main circadian clock by producing a phase delay (the biological urge to go to sleep and wake up later than usual), and exposure during late biological night results in a phase advance (going to sleep and waking up earlier than usual).

“Biological night” is defined as the period between the onset and cessation of melatonin secretion. During this period, melatonin is secreted, blood cortisol levels rise, core body temperature goes down, and we become sleepy. Melatonin is produced only during darkness and stops upon optic exposure to bright light, with light in the blue portion of the visible spectrum proving the most potent at suppressing production [for more information about circadian rhythm and blues, see “What’s in a Color? The Unique Human Health Effects of Blue Light,” p. A22 this issue].

Orignal Article Published at http://www.foodconsumer.org/newsite/Non-food/Lifestyle/lose_sleep_gain_weight_3112091149.html

By Angela Spivey

Angela Spivey writes from North Carolina about science, medicine, and higher education. She has written for EHP since 2001 and is a member of the National Association of Science Writers.

Published: 01 January 2010