Strategies to Offset Effects of Sleep Deprivation

Although insufficient sleep is often associated with increased caloric intake, new research suggests eating less late at night may help mitigate concentration and alertness deficits that accompany sleep deprivation.

Researchers at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania presented their study at SLEEP 2015, the 29th annual meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies LLC.

“Adults consume approximately 500 additional calories during late-night hours when they are sleep restricted,” said the study’s senior author David F. Dinges, Ph.D., director of the Unit for Experimental Psychiatry and chief of the division of Sleep and Chronobiology.

“Our research found that refraining from late-night calories helps prevent some of the decline those is individuals may otherwise experience in neurobehavioral performance during sleep restriction.”

In the study, researchers gave 44 subjects, ages 21 to 50, unlimited access to food and drink during the day, followed by only four hours of sleep each night for three nights. On the fourth night, 20 participants received continued access to food and drinks, while the 24 others were allowed only to consume water from 10:00 p.m. until they went to sleep at 4:00 a.m.

At 2:00 a.m. each night, all subjects completed a variety of tests to measure their working memory, cognitive skills, sleepiness, stress level, and mood.

During the fourth night, subjects who fasted performed better on reaction time and attention lapses than subjects who had eaten during those late-night hours.

Researchers also discovered that subjects who ate showed significantly slower reaction times and more attention lapses on the fourth night of sleep restriction compared to the first three nights. In contrast, study subjects who had fasted did not show this performance decline.

While countless studies associate numerous physical and mental health benefits with a healthy night’s sleep, the Centers for Disease Control Prevention reports that “insufficient sleep is a public health epidemic” in the United States, including the estimated 50 to 70 million U.S. adults suffering from sleep and wakefulness disorders.

The new study compliments research on the links between eating and sleep deprivation. A prior study from the same Penn team found that individuals with late bedtimes and chronic sleep restriction may be more susceptible to weight gain due to the increased consumption of calories during late-night hours.

In a related study, the same team of Goel, Spaeth and Dinges, found that adults who are chronically sleep restricted may need to compensate for decreased morning resting metabolic rate by reducing caloric intake or increasing physical activity to prevent weight gain.

“Short sleep duration is a significant risk factor for weight gain and obesity, particularly in African Americans and men,” says senior author Namni Goel, Ph.D.

“This research suggests that reducing the number of calories consumed can help prevent that weight gain and some of the health issues associated with obesity in Caucasians and particularly in African Americans.”

The NIH reports that 69 percent of U.S. adults are overweight or obese. Being overweight or obese increases your risk of coronary heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, type II diabetes, cancer, sleep apnea, and other health problems.

Source: University of Pennsylvania