Sleeping Woman

With More Sleep, People Eat Less, Says an RCT

The familiar (and not always helpful) advice to move more and eat less might need to make room for a simpler prescription. Sleep more and you’ll eat less. That is the finding of a new study in JAMA Internal Medicine, published yesterday. In an RCT of 80 adults with overweight, counseling to extend their sleep from 6.5 to 8.5 hours nightly led them to sleep more and eat less.

This was only a two week study. But absent any advice to change eating habits or try to lose weight, persons in the extra sleep group lost almost a kilo of body weight.

Sleeping, Eating, and Body Weight

This is not an entirely new idea. The relationship of diminished sleep duration with increased body weight is something we’ve written about here before. Better sleep, and more of it, is generally good for your health – including the help it offers with maintaining a healthier weight. But until now, we didn’t really know if advice to sleep more could help with these issues.

The adults in this study were pretty typical. They had an average BMI of 28 – a bit less than the average BMI in the general population. All of the study participants were in the overweight range, 25 to 30. Average age in this study was 30 years, ranging from 21 to 40. All of them were sleeping less than 6.5 hours per night.

The only difference between the treatment and control groups was individualized counseling on sleep through structured interviews. Activity monitors measured sleep time. Researchers measured energy stores and energy expenditure to arrive at estimates of energy intake. They used a validated method with doubly labeled water for this purpose.

In the end, people in the sleep group consumed 270 calories less per day than the control group. But their energy expenditure did not change.

A Real Opportunity

In a commentary alongside this study,  Mark Rosekind, Rafael Pelayo, and Debra Babcock say this study points to a real and important opportunity:

“Physicians have an opportunity with each patient to ask about sleep habits and to counsel patients on good sleep health.”

Clearly, better sleep is something people need and want. A new study in JAMA last week documents more than a 400 percent increase in the use of melatonin supplements between 2000 and 2018. People use it for sleep, even though the evidence for its safety and effectiveness is weak. Higher doses are becoming more common. But we seriously doubt that melatonin is the answer for our sleep deficits.

So perhaps some of the energy that goes into telling people to diet and exercise can shift into providing support for better sleep. All of us could benefit.

Click here for the RCT of sleep counseling and here for the commentary that goes with it. For further reporting, click here.

Sleeping Woman, painting by Georges Seurat / WikiArt

Subscribe by email to follow the accumulating evidence and observations that shape our view of health, obesity, and policy.


February 8, 2022