Health Column: Does lack of sleep lead to weight gain?

The following column is provided by The American Institute for Cancer Research.

Q: Can lack of sleep really lead to weight gain?
A: Many, but not all, studies do show a link between lack of sleep and increased chances of being overweight among children and young or middle-aged adults. There may be several reasons for this. It’s possible that people who are overweight or obese are more likely to have lifestyles that include less sleep, whether because of working jobs with long, late hours or activities such as extended television viewing. However, some research suggests that lack of sleep — usually referring to less than six or seven hours a night for adults — can lead to choices that make weight control a challenge, such as when fatigue causes you to be less active or grab extra sweet drinks and snacks, or when staying up longer hours simply means having more time to eat. There are studies suggesting that lack of sleep can even lead to hormonal changes that increase appetite and the depositing of fat around the waist. Not everyone’s weight seems equally affected by lack of sleep, but if you’re short on sleep and gaining weight, getting to bed earlier may bring a variety of health benefits. Naps can also boost health, but so far no link has been found to weight control.

Q: I became a vegetarian to lose weight, but it’s not working.  Why?
A: Vegetarian eating can be very nutritious and sometimes the switch leads to weight loss, but it’s not an automatic ticket for weight loss. To lose weight, you’ve got to eat fewer calories than you burn up. Regular exercise is an important part of helping that to occur. Consider whether the foods you eat are very concentrated in calories. Some foods vegetarians eat as sources of protein — such as legumes, nuts, seeds and cheese — are higher in calories than poultry and lean meat. These plant sources of protein are important, but need to be balanced with plenty of low-calorie vegetables. Look at what you drink, too. Soft drinks aren’t the only beverages in which calories add up quickly; the same is true for juice, sweetened milk and milk alternative drinks and alcohol. Also consider whether you might be eating portions larger than you really need. Overeating, even with healthful food, will almost surely promote excess weight. Studies suggest that if people who are overeating take 25 percent smaller portions, they can often reduce calorie consumption without noticing any increase in hunger.

Q: If I drink orange juice with extra pulp, does that mean I’m getting the fiber?
A: You may be getting a little bit of fiber, but it doesn’t add up to the amount of fiber in even one-sixth of an orange. For all the orange juice products I checked, choosing the type with fiber doesn’t add any additional nutrients either. So when you drink juice, choose whichever form you most enjoy, and remember to include solid fruit — fresh, frozen, canned or dried with little or no sugar — for most of the three or four servings of fruit recommended for adults each day.

Karen Collins is a registered dietician and certified nutritionist with The American Institute for Cancer Research, the cancer charity that fosters research on the relationship of nutrition, physical activity and weight management to cancer risk.