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CHICAGO, Ill. — A good night’s sleep may be the real key to losing weight. A new study reveals getting more rest actually lowers a person’s appetite by up to 500 calories a day.

Researchers from the University of Chicago Medicine say obesity increases a person’s chances of suffering from mental health problems and has a link to the development of heart conditions, diabetes, and cancer.

“Over the years, we and others have shown that sleep restriction has an effect on appetite regulation that leads to increased food intake, and thus puts you at risk for weight gain over time,” says study author Dr. Esra Tasali in a university release. “More recently, the question that everyone was asking was, ‘Well, if this is what happens with sleep loss, can we extend sleep and reverse some of these adverse outcomes?”

The researchers recruited 80 young, overweight adults, who would normally only sleep for six and a half hours a night. The group wore sleep monitors and received counseling sessions on how to bring their sleep up to eight and a half hours per night. This allowed participants to continue sleeping in their own beds or change their diets.

“Most other studies on this topic in labs are short-lived, for a couple of days, and food intake is measured by how much participants consume from an offered diet,” Dr. Tasali explains. “In our study, we only manipulated sleep, and had the participants eat whatever they wanted, with no food logging or anything else to track their nutrition by themselves.”

More sleep could help people drop over 20 pounds

Participants increased their average sleep duration by over an hour a night after just one counseling session. To track their calorie intake, the researchers used a special urine test called the “doubly labeled water” method. It involves giving participants water where the hydrogen and oxygen atoms have been replaced with less common but harmless substances.

“This is considered the gold standard for objectively measuring daily energy expenditure in a non-laboratory, real-world setting and it has changed the way human obesity is studied,” says senior author Professor Dale Schoeller.

Results show people who get more sleep reduce their calorie intake by an average of 270 kcal per day, with some even cutting out 500 a day. This translates to roughly 26 pounds of weight loss over three years, provided participants maintain their results over a long term.

“We saw that after just a single sleep counseling session, participants could change their bedtime habits enough to lead to an increase in sleep duration,” Dr. Tasali reports.

“We simply coached each individual on good sleep hygiene, and discussed their own personal sleep environments, providing tailored advice on changes they could make to improve their sleep duration. Importantly, to blind participants to sleep intervention, recruitment materials did not mention sleep intervention, allowing us to capture true habitual sleep patterns at baseline.”

Sticking to the plan could result in big improvements

The study lasted four weeks, with the first two weeks dedicated to finding out how many hours of sleep participants enjoy.

“This was not a weight-loss study,” Tasali adds. “But even within just two weeks, we have quantified evidence showing a decrease in caloric intake and a negative energy balance — caloric intake is less than calories burned.”

A healthy sleep pattern could therefore help combat obesity, which affects around 13 percent of the world’s population.

“If healthy sleep habits are maintained over longer duration, this would lead to clinically important weight loss over time. Many people are working hard to find ways to decrease their caloric intake to lose weight — well, just by sleeping more, you may be able to reduce it substantially,” Tasali concludes.

The findings are published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine.

South West News Service writer Tom Campbell contributed to this report.

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