Monday, July 1, 2013

Why Night Owls Have Trouble Drifting Off, or Lifting Off

Man, did one of my featured blog-list members write me up to a tee! I refer to WebMD, which carried an article the other day that was headlined, "Night Owls May Pack on More Pounds." That is me. That's my weakness. I have trouble going to sleep at a decent hour. Sometimes I can't go to sleep even after midnight, so I wander around the house, catch a little TV, and of course forage in the kitchen for anything edible, the junkier the better.

WebMD ran a story reporting that University of Pennsylvania researchers found that night owls are more likely to gain weight than early-to-bed-early-to-rise folks because they rummage through the kitchen in search of junk food in the hours after the late-late and late-late-late shows. Really? It took a formal research study to discover that people who ate their way through the night gained more weight than those who slept the whole night through?

The researchers monitored the eating patterns of 200 people who were kept up until 4 a.m. for five nights straight, and then allowed only four hours of sleep. They were permitted to eat whatever they wanted, and their calorie intake was compared with a control group of sleepers. Well, DUH! Of course those up all night consumed more than those who slept. You wonder if a federal grant funded this brilliant research.

There was one interesting scientific finding. Late-night overeating may be related to hormonal changes in sleep-deprived folks. They experience an increase in gherkin (pronounced "gremlins"?), a hormone that triggers hunger cravings. At the same time, they suffer plummeting levels of leptin, a hormone that makes folks feel full. Wow, I didn't even know there was such a hormone! So your body craves more and more junky food, and your body feels less and less full all the while. Now that is a truly vicious cycle.

One flaw with the study was that the research subjects were allowed to eat hospital food only. Now, I am pretty sure that doesn't include chunky peanut butter straight out of the jar, or Vienna sausages, or "Little Bite" blueberry muffins -- a lot of bites of a "little bite." Those are some of my preferred late-night snacks. I doubt they are found in any hospital pantry.

The bottom line from all this is that it is all the more important for night foragers like me to do plenty of day walking and other exercise to burn off the nocturnal calories. Admittedly, it would be nice, too, if we found a way to go to bed and fall asleep before midnight, but we wouldn't be night owls if we did that, now would we? Besides, night owls get a lot of writing done, much of it on blogs like this one.

© Robert G. Holland  2013

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