Caution: Dieting While Drowsy Can Lead to a Waistline Disaster

Mid-afternoon slump? Wake up and hide the snack cakes!

With summer -- and bikini season -- only days away, many women are embarking on last-ditch efforts to slim down before summer. If you’re among them, you might want to make extra sure you’re getting plenty of beauty sleep. The reason: skipping out on your Zzz’s can make you skip out on your diet.

New research presented today at SLEEP 2011, the 25th Anniversary Meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies suggests that daytime sleepiness makes it even harder to resist tantalizing, high-calorie sweets. But clocking in the requisite seven to eight hours a each night won’t save you from cheating on your diet if you are plagued by the mid-afternoon slump.

For the small study, researchers at Harvard Medical School and McLean Hospital studied 12 healthy men and women between the ages of 19 and 45 years. The participants underwent brain scans known as functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) while viewing pictures of high-calorie foods, low-calorie foods, and neutral images of plants and rocks. While doing this, the volunteers’ sleepiness was measured with a scientific scale that determines just how likely one is to doze off in any given moment. What they found was that the area of the brain associated with self-control (e.g. not chowing down on everything in sight) barely kicked into gear when drowsy people were shown pictures of high-calorie treats. In other words, sleepy people found themselves defenseless in the face of junk food.

Perhaps that’s part of the reason why so many studies are linking a lack of sleep to weight gain. Last year, a study in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that cutting back on sleep reduced the benefits of dieting. Even though dieters lost the same number of pounds regardless of how much sleep they were getting, their bodies refused to part with fat reserves while deprived of sleep. When dieters were well-rested, half the weight they lost was body fat. In addition, dieters were much hungrier on less sleep.

Add that to this most current research, and suddenly daytime sleepiness seems like a perfect storm for a diet disaster. In fact, another study that we reported on last year found that women ate an average of 329 extra calories on days when they weren’t well-rested. Yikes!

While getting enough rest is the obvious way to keep daytime sleepiness at bay, even marathon sleepers can hit the occasional midday slump. If you don’t want those moments of weakness to translate into a junk food binge, your best bet is to keep tantalizing treats out of sight in case thos inopportune moments arise. Another way to fight temptation and shake off your exhaustion is to go for a brisk 15-minute walk. Research shows that a quick walk around the block or building can stave off cravings and boost your mood!. Just make sure to ask someone to hide the Ho Hos while you’re out.

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