Fall Back, Spring Ahead, Lose Sleep and Get Fat?!

Fall Back, Spring Ahead, Lose Sleep and Get Fat?!

By: Holly L. Thacker, MD • Posted on March 03, 2013


As you get ready to spring ahead and set your clocks ahead an hour for daylight savings time, you will lose an hour from your day and may likely lose at least an hour of sleep. You should start planning ahead for the loss of that extra hour in advance by setting your bedtime and your children’s bedtime 15 minutes earlier for the few days before the time change.

Recent research from the UK revealed genetic changes in human blood cells within just a week of sleep deprivation. Volunteers slept just under six hours compared to the control group who slept the optimal 8.5 hours. There were changes noted in the following:

  • Gene expression
  • Immune responses
  • Stress responses

This research suggests that there are direct molecular and genetic mechanisms that mediate the effects of sleep deprivation on health and wellness. For some time, we have been aware of the complex interrelationship of sleep, circadian rhythms, mood, and body metabolism.

Persons who are sleep deprived are not just crankier the next day, but previous research has shown that sleep deprived subjects are more likely to consume more calories the next day. When our bodies are stressed, we produce more cortisol, the stress hormone made in our adrenal glands, which boosts appetite. Furthermore, when we skimp on shut eye, we have less REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, which is the part of the sleep cycle that naturally burns the most calories. Furthermore, if you are fatigued, you are less likely to be motivated to hit the gym to do weight lifting activities, which help build and maintain muscle mass. Building and maintaining muscle is the only way to naturally improve your resting metabolic calorie burning rate.

What is eye opening about the recent research from the UK Surrey Sleep Center is that there were documented changes at the molecular and epigenetic level associated with sleep deprivation. This provides more evidence that our lifestyle (nurture) affects our genetics (nature).

So get your shut eye so you can be alert and well rested so you can make good lifestyle choices to avoid gaining weight, including:

  • Eating right
  • Lifting weights

Most of us don’t want to wear a muffin top. Rather it’s better to eat the top of a tasty, fruit bran muffin and share the bottom half with your exercise partner AFTER a good work out and hopefully always after a night of good sleep!

Be Strong. Be Healthy. Be in Charge!

-Holly L. Thacker MD

Holly L. Thacker, MD, FACP is nationally known for her leadership in women’s health. She is the founder of the Cleveland Clinic Women’s Health Fellowship and is currently the Professor and Director of the Center for Specialized Women’s Health at Cleveland Clinic and Lerner College of Medicine at Case Western Reserve University. Dr. Thacker is also the Executive Director of Speaking of Women’s Health and the author of The Cleveland Clinic Guide to Menopause. Her special interests and areas of research including menopause and related medical problems including osteoporosis, hormone therapy, breast cancer risk assessment, menstrual disorders, female sexual dysfunction and interdisciplinary women’s health.


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