Several studies have highlighted the impact of too-little sleep on hormones, blood sugar levels, and metabolism (none of which are good), but new research says it could also have a big impact on obesity genes. And again, all signs point to the same old advice: Get more sleep. It may not be able to wipe away fat genes, but it can give you a serious edge on managing them.
The study analyzed over 1,000 pairs of twins, observing their weight and sleep patterns. For twins who slept under seven hours per day, genes accounted for 70% of BMI differences, and environmental factors (like diet and exercise) only accounted for 4%. Among those who slept nine hours or more per night, genes only accounted for 32% of discrepancies, while environmental factors accounted for 51%.
The message isn’t exactly that you can “sleep yourself thin,” but the conclusion is encouraging: Get more sleep and you’ll have more control over your weight. And as long as you’re putting the time and effort into your diet and exercise, why wouldn’t you want to optimize the results with better sleep?
Lead study author Nathaniel F. Watson, M.D., co-director of the University of Washington Medicine Sleep Center, confirmed that sleep is an undervalued factor in weight management efforts:
The longer you sleep, the greater the influence of environmental factors like meal composition and timing. [...] Based on previous research, it’s probably related to glucose metabolism, metabolism in general, inflammation—all pathways that we already know are associated with obesity.
We spend so much time in this country trying to keep our weight down with diet and exercise, but we never think about sleep. I think of sleep as the third leg on the stool of good health, along with diet and exercise.
So you still can’t burn off Twinkies by hitting the snooze button, but designing your schedule to fit in enough sleep will help you reap the benefits of getting up early to work out and eat right.