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Don't wake up, Sid


All for a healthy body

Did you know that your bed works as a gym? Or that the lack of sleep can make you fat, fatigued and irritable? Stop punishing your body and start rewarding it with eight hours of rest.

I can manage with just two hours of sleep," is the kind of irritating boast that people with boundless energy like to toss around. It had been Sumit Desai's line for the many years when he easily juggled a demanding career with a compulsive need to party. But one day, the 30-year-old executive found to his astonishment that despite his active life, he was putting on weight.

Of course, he never connected the extra pounds to his steadily rising sleep deficit. It would seem to most people that the longer you are on your feet, the more active you stay, and ergo, the fitter you are. Wrong, the body actually grudges you the sleep you deny it and gets its revenge by piling on the kilos.

"Imagine my surprise when my doctor told me that my weight gain could be the result of lack of sleep," says Desai. Now, after a few sessions with the good doctor, he has become serious about not abusing his body and making sure he rests adequately.

"What many do not know is that the body does not burn as many calories when it is functioning on less sleep. It thus hoards calories as fat and makes it difficult for us to keep our weight in check," says Dr Himanshu Garg, consultant, respiratory and sleep medicine, Medanta.

A study with 68, 000 women conducted recently at the Case Western Reserve University, USA, found that those who sleep less than five hours a night gain more weight over time and are more likely to become obese than those who rest adequately.

Experts say sleep deprivation impacts two hormones that regulate appetite and satiety - leptin and ghrelin respectively. Normally, adipocytes (fat cells) release leptin into the bloodstream to signal sufficient fat stores and act as a natural appetite suppressor.

Ghrelin, on the other hand, is produced by the stomach cells to send a signal to the brain that the person should eat.

When one is sleep-deprived, leptin levels decrease and ghrelin levels increase, thus giving the brain signals that the body is starving. Naturally, the craving for food grows, as does one's girth.

A person suffering from sleep deprivation tends to be hungrier the next day. He also gravitates towards sweeter, starchier, or saltier foods, typically those with higher calories. Over time, this leads to an accumulation of higher levels of body fat, which explains why many people have such a difficult time losing weight when they don't sleep well.

"In the west, people are striving very hard to attain a more balanced lifestyle," says Dr Garg. "And here we are, trying to ape the west in its earlier approach to work. It's sad that many of us have this warped sense of bravado - that sleep is for the weak. Traditional Indian concept of wellness places a lot of importance on sleep."

Research done in recent years, shows a strong link between lack of sleep and obesity and also confirms its association with health problems such as high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease and diabetes. While sleep disorders can affect anyone, at any age, there are certain sleep disorders that specifically affect the overweight. Pickwickian Syndrome, named after an obese Dickensian character who kept falling asleep during the day, is one such recognised form of sleep apnea disorder suffered by the moderate to severely obese.

In sleep, the body accomplishes a lot that it cannot during waking hours. This includes regeneration of damaged cells, tissue repair, and de-stressing of the mind. If robbed of this healing time, the body can respond with fatigue, memory loss, irritability, emotional problems, weight gain and poor health. Perhaps the most eloquent paean to the nourishing powers of sleep was penned by Shakespeare in Macbeth: "Sleep that knits up the raveled sleave of care, / The death of each day's life, sore labor's bath, Balm of hurt minds, great nature's second course, / Chief nourisher in life's feast."

Dr Marvin Bhatia, chairman of the department of sleep medicine and senior neurologist, Ganga Ram Hospital, says the problem starts in youth. "Research shows that sleep deprivation causes increase in the cortisol hormone which, in turn, causes changes in your insulin and glucose levels. And because cortisol is a steroid, it causes weight gain. This should be avoided because the result can be pre-diabetes, which if not detected, can turn into diabetes," he says.

The physiological process that occupies a third of our life span, needs to be given proper attention, says Dr Bhatia. "There are about 80 kinds of sleep disorders ranging from excessive sleepiness during the day, poor sleep at night and abnormal behaviour at night (sleep talking, sleep walking and so on). All of these are dangerous," he says.

The Indian Sleep Disorders Association maintains that an adult needs about eight hours of continuous sleep. "We must remember that sleep evolves through the night. From wakefulness to sleepiness, we go through different cycles - and in one night we go though six cycles which are of about 90 minutes each," says Dr J C Suri, the head of the association, and head of the department of pulmonary, critical care and sleep medicine, at Safdarjung Hospital.

So the next time you feel the need to fast forward those eight precious hours, remember that you will probably have to pay for it by lying in bed for more than eight hours - not asleep, but ill.

Fast facts
Inadequate sleep affects hormones resulting in glucose intolerance which tell the body's hunger receptors that the body is hungry. The sleep deprived are more likely to reach for sweets and starches over veggies and fruits when hunger sets in. This throws the body into a terribly unhealthy cycle and inhibits weight loss.

Studies reveal a tendency to replace sleep loss with extra calories. While trapped in this cycle, the foods you eat are not metabolised well because of the hormone imbalance, basically setting off a domino effect of weight gain, poor health, more sleep loss and the potential for serious diseases down the road Studies have shown that those getting an average of 5 hours of sleep are 70 per cent more likely to be obese than those who get adequate sleep.

Tune out, drop off
Observe good 'Sleep Hygiene'. For instance, make sure you switch off the laptop and the TV in the bedroom Avoid a heavy dinner and beverages such as tea/coffee post-dinner. Sleep on a light stomach Ensure that your bed is comfortable Avoid inappropriate light in the bedroom Ensure that there is peace and quiet around sleep time Keep a sleep diary A few relaxation exercises before bedtime help Have dinner at least two hours before you hit the bed Sleep and wake up around the same time daily Avoid napping during the day Night shifters must follow the same routine during the day

Reader's opinion (2)

Gomati KuttyJun 15th, 2011 at 04:43 AM

Cannot genaralise the statement that everyone needs 6/8 hours of sleep; some are fine with 2/3 hours and do not have any side effects each his own you can say.

J PNov 27th, 2010 at 02:36 AM

Not everybody sleeps for 6 hours a night - nor needs to, maybe.
Some do more, some do with less.

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