Sleep yourself slim

Genes can be cruel (that is genes with a “g”, I’m not referring to the embarrassing extrusions of flesh that come from undersized jeans with a “j”). The apple does not fall far from the tree and you cannot escape the pull of your genetic heritage: or can you? New research suggests that as far as your weight goes, you are only a prisoner to your genetics if you aren’t getting enough sleep.

Plenty of research has shown that lack of sleep leads to weight gain but there is also a genetic component to weight, so these researchers wanted to test whether sleep might actually be influencing genetics.

To do this they gathered data from 604 identical twins and 484 non-identical (fraternal) twins. The average age of the twins was 36.6 years and 66 per cent were women.

The participants provided information on their sleep patterns as well as their weight and height. For the study short sleep was defined as being less than seven hours per night, normal sleep was defined as 7-8.9 hours per night, and long sleep as nine hours per night or more.

The results showed that people who slept longer each night were slimmer than those who slept less. Where the results were really interesting where when genetic factors were taken into consideration.

The researchers examined genetic profiles for the people in the study to find who had genetic dispositions to gain weight and who did not. They found that for people who slept less than seven hours a night genetic factors accounted for about 70 per cent of variations in weight. For those sleeping seven to nine hours per night genetic factors accounted for about 60 per cent of weight variations but in those sleeping over nine hours per night genetics accounted for only about 34 per cent of variations in weight.

So for twins, who share a lot of genetic material, sleep modified the way genes were expressed. It means that the more you sleep the less your genetics impact your weight. Somehow, longer sleep is suppressing or overriding the expression of genes for weight gain.

So if you feel that in your attempts to escape your genetic heritage you are like a cartoon character trying to run with a massive rubber band attaching you to your family tree…try sleeping on it; the weight, and the rubber band, might just fall away.

Terry Robson

Terry Robson

Terry Robson is the Editor-in-Chief of WellBeing and the Editor of EatWell.

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