Scientists have determined that sleepless nights and a plethora of food choices can contribute to unexpected weight gain. While a well-stocked kitchen may be a sign of prosperity, it can actually be an unwelcome precursor to packing on extra pounds. If one’s kitchen cabinets are overflowing and he or she isn’t getting enough sleep during the week, the risk of weight gain becomes even more pronounced.
A study by scientists at the University of Colorado Boulder determined that people who got less than the ideal amount of sleep—generally around five hours per night during the work week—and also had a wide variety of food choices at home gained nearly two pounds.
The director of the university’s Sleep and Chronobiology Laboratory, Kenneth Wright, says that either risk factor alone usually doesn’t contribute to the weight gain, but when combined, almost all subjects gained unwanted weight. The effects seemed to be minimized when the participants got at least seven to eight hours of sleep per night, however.
The study split a group of 16 participants into a group that slept for just five hours per night, while the other group slept for 9 hours. The groups then switched. Both men and women gained extra weight while they were in the five hours of sleep per night group.
Scientists believe the reason for this weight gain is due to the way that the body designates certain times to digest rather than intake food. The sleep-deprived group often ate large meals or highly calories snacks during this time period, which caused the body to be inefficient at burning those calories or converting them to energy. Instead, many of those calories became fat.
This finding was observed despite the fact that the sleep-deprived group actually burned five percent more calories throughout the study and ate six fewer calories overall. This suggests that the body is indeed more efficient at burning calories at certain intervals throughout the day, and late night eating over a long period of time could contribute to substantial weight gain.
The study also found that weight gain among the sexes wasn’t even, as men tended to gain weight if they had access to unlimited food but maintained a healthy sleep cycle, while well-rested women were more likely to maintain their weights no matter how much food they had access to during the study.