500 adults. By age 27, individuals with short sleep duration (less than 6 hours) were 7.5 times more likely to have a higher body mass index, after controlling for confounding factors such as family history, levels of physical activity, and demographic factors (Hasler et al., 2004). Another study, a large population-based study of more than 1,000 adults, found a U-shaped relationship between sleep duration, measured by polysomnography, and BMI (Figure 3-2). Adults who slept 7.7 hours had the lowest BMI; those with shorter and longer sleep duration had progressively higher BMI. The U-shaped association also applies to other health outcomes, such as heart attacks. The impact of sleep loss diminishes with age. The study also sought to investigate physiological mechanisms behind the relationship between sleep duration and BMI. Measuring two appetite-related hormones, the study found that sleep insufficiency increased appetite. Sleep insufficiency was associated with lower levels of leptin, a hormone produced by an adipose tissue hormone that suppresses appetite, and higher levels of ghrelin, a peptide that stimulates appetite (Taheri et al., 2004). Another study—a small randomized, cross-over clinical trial—also found that sleep restriction was associated with lower leptin and higher ghrelin levels (Spiegel et al., 2004). The findings suggest that a hormonally mediated increase in appetite may help to explain why short sleep is related to obesity. Several mediating mechanisms have been proposed, including effects of sleep deprivation on

FIGURE 3-2 Curvilinear relationship between BMI and average nightly sleep.

SOURCE: Taheri et al. (2004).



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