As if diet and exercise weren’t already enough to worry about when it comes to losing weight, there’s another factor that plays a big role: how much sleep you get. According to WebMD, people who log the fewest number of hours in dreamland also pack on the biggest number of pounds. Not only is a lack of sleep associated with weight gain, it doesn’t take months and months of chronic sleep deprivation to take it’s toll before you see the detrimental effects to your waist. Instead, it can happen in just a matter of days. A study at the University of Colorado Boulder compared a group of students in a controlled setting that were allowed 5 hours of sleep per night for 5 days to a group of students that were allowed to sleep 9 hours per night for 5 days. The groups then switched to allow for a more accurate comparison. When participants were limited to 5 hours of sleep, they gained an average of 2 pounds in just 5 days. The group that got more sleep lost weight and consumed fewer carbs. Interestingly enough, the group that got less sleep burned more calories, but consumed enough extra calories when they were awake to more than make up for the deficit.
Getting enough sleep is already a struggle for most parents, no doubt, but it even goes beyond how many hours you sleep. It also matters what hours you sleep. A study published this month in Appetite looked at duration of sleep and it’s effect on weight and diet. Participants who had the midpoint of their sleep before 5:30am were categorized as normal sleepers. Those that had their midpoint of sleep at or after 5:30am were dubbed late sleepers. Turns out hitting the snooze button isn’t just going to make you late for work; it may also make you gain weight. The late sleepers in the study consumed an average of 248 more calories per day than the normal sleepers. That’s a potential 2 pound per month weight gain. 24 pounds a year just for sleeping in. Most of those extra calories were consumed at night, either at or after dinner, and more came from carbohydrates. A 2011 study showed that calories consumed after 8pm regardless of sleep time and duration, were associated with an increased BMI. Interestingly enough, the quality of the late sleepers’ diet was worse overall than the normal sleepers, including things such as eating more fast food, drinking more soda, and slacking on the fruits and vegetables.
New moms (and dads) getting up frequently throughout the night ought to keep this in mind when they’re frustrated about losing the baby weight. You’ve got more than you fair share of the odds stacked against you, so either cut yourself some slack or find a way to make sleep a priority.