The UK study found that sleep-deprived people consumed an average of 385 kilocalories extra the next day. Image Credit: Gulf News Archives

Dubai: The next time you find yourself overindulging in food, try to recall how many hours of sleep you had the night before.

Whether it’s gadget addiction that’s reducing your sleep quota or a clinical condition like insomnia, sleep deprivation leads to increased consumption of sweet or salty high-fat foods, says a UK study.

Led by King’s College London, the study found that sleep-deprived people consumed an average of 385 kilocalories extra the next day, which is equivalent to the calories of about four and a half slices of bread.

It seems harmless when this happens for a day or two but, over a period of time, a person not getting enough sleep will pack on the pounds as a result of increased calorie intake, Dr Irshaad Ebrahim, consultant neuropsychiatrist and medical director at London Sleep Centre Dubai told Gulf News.

This can potentially lead to a higher risk of becoming obese and developing illnesses like diabetes, heart diseases and hypertension.

According to Dr Ebrahim, there is a complex relationship between sleep loss and weight gain.

“Sleep deprivation may cause overeating by altering certain hormones that play an important role in controlling appetite and satiety,” he said.

The hormone Ghrelin stimulates appetite, causing us to eat; while the hormone Leptin suppresses appetite — so that we stop eating — and stimulates energy expenditure, he explained.

“In a properly functioning brain, the two hormones are released on and off to regulate normal feelings of hunger. Sleep deprivation can, however, alter Ghrelin and Leptin levels. The effects of sleep loss on appetite seem to be most powerful in the late afternoon and early evening, times when snacking has been linked to weight gain.”

It is certain, Dr Ebrahim added, that when a person is sleep-deprived, cravings for certain foods get stronger and the ability to resist them is impaired. By consuming more high-calorie foods, it can make it more likely for those calories to be deposited around the middle, forming fat deposits that are especially likely to raise the risk of obesity-related illnesses.

Dr Ebrahim backed up his claims by citing a study that shows that when a person is sleep-deprived, the release of Leptin decreases while Ghrelin increases. “When participants in an experimental study were provided only five hours sleep, their Leptin decreased by 21 per cent and their Ghrelin increased by 14 per cent. Importantly, their Body Mass Index [BMI] showed an increase compared to participants who had received a normal eight hours of sleep. The Kings College study indicated that there is a biochemical basis for the increase in BMI directly related to sleep deprivation.”

There have also been several scientific studies that have documented a relationship between sleep disruption and obesity, Dr Ebrahim noted.

“A study in 2002 in adolescents found that obese adolescents slept less well than non-obese adolescents and, for each hour of less sleep, there was an 80 per cent chance of being obese or gaining weight.”

Referring to another much more comprehensive 13-year prospective study of 496 people published in the Journal Sleep in 2004, Dr Ebrahim said that it found that one could predict the later development of obesity based on the amount of sleep the participants reported.

“There is, therefore, direct and indirect evidence that sleep deprivation is related to obesity and weight gain.”

Insomnia versus self-induced sleep deprivation

Dr Ebrahim said that the common cause of sleep deprivation among patients in Dubai is insomnia, which is the difficulty in falling asleep or staying asleep and, as a result, waking up early, which amounts to a reduction in total sleep time. Consequently, the individual experiences daytime symptoms such as lethargy, anxiety, fatigue and sleepiness.

“Both insomnia and self-induced sleep deprivation, due to behaviour of the individual, lead to an activation of the Sympathetic Nervous System and hence increase the adrenaline drive resulting in cravings for simple sugars,” he said.

What residents say

Ali Za, 27, accountant, from Jordan

“Yes, I eat a lot more when I don’t get enough sleep. To keep my energy up, I tend to reach out to sugar-laden junk and coffee. The last thing on your mind when you’re sleep-deprived is a salad. During college, I remember not getting enough sleep and having to wake up for a 8am class and I remember how I used to crave sugary foods.”

Dabota Willie-Pepple, from Nigeria, 38, fitness trainer

“When I don’t sleep well, I have a reduced mental capacity the next day. I don’t remember names, places, things, etc. I’m not a sugar person, but on days when I am sleep-deprived, I don’t make good choices. For example, I can pick up a bag of banana chips and eat them all. In the long run, sleep deprivation can make it harder to lose weight, even if you are eating healthy.”

Tips to fight sleep deprivation-related bingeing:

  1. Rest well: Get the sleep you need, every single day.
  2. Work out early in the morning: Exercising can aid sleep but not when done right before you sleep.
  3. Eat right: Ditch the carbs and go for proteins when you feel like bingeing.
  4. No alcohol: Alcohol does not relax you; instead it hampers your sleep and resting phase.

What UAE data tells us

  • Only 12% of surveyed residents get the recommended 8 hours of sleep daily.
  • 60% have at least one to two nights of poor sleep a week
  • 25% claim that work-related stress is the reason for lack of sleep.
  • 30% feel their worst sleep night falls on Saturday, being the night before the work week starts.
  • 13% get less than 5 hours of sleep each night
  • 82% check work emails before going to bed; 60 per cent doing so regularly

— Research by Bupa Global, UAE.

(With inputs from Dona Cherian, Guides Writer)