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Jul 21, 2014 05:24 PM EDT

Lack Of Sleep May Lead To Significant Weight Gain

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Sleep loss may cause significant weight gain, according to a recent study USA Today reported.

Researchers found that a critical component to weight control is avoiding sleep deprivation.

"There is no doubt that insufficient sleep promotes hunger and appetite, which can cause excessive food intake resulting in weight gain," Eve Van Cauter, director of the Sleep, Metabolism and Health Center at the University of Chicago, told USA Today. "Our body is not wired for sleep deprivation. The human is the only mammal that does this."

Van Cauter, who has spent 15 years studying the topic, added that sleep deprivation may affect every process in the body.

Researchers said the findings could explain why sleepy college students, new parents and shift workers pack on pounds.

The research team found that study participants who didn't get enough sleep for five days consumed more carbohydrates and gained nearly 2 pounds in that time.

Previous studies have shown that when people don't get enough sleep they experience a rise in levels of a hunger hormone called ghrelin and have decreased levels of the satiety hormone called leptin, which could lead to overeating. They consume nearly 300 extra calories a day and exercise less. They also tend to eat more than "what is needed to cover the energy cost of staying awake longer, especially at night, which can lead to significant weight gain."

"When people are sleepy, they make poor food choices and are more likely to eat more than they need," Kenneth Wright, director of sleep and chronobiology laboratory at the University of Colorado in Boulder, told USA Today.

Wright said when people got enough sleep they reduced their intake of carbohydrates and fats.

Van Cauter said most young adults need seven to nine hours a night.

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