How many hours you sleep matters

Published 10:00 pm Monday, January 25, 2016

We Americans too often pride ourselves on getting by with just a few hours of sleep, especially during our highly productive working years. Research has shown that teens who get less than eight hours of sleep per night tend to perform less well in school. But for adults the penalty for too little sleep over time isn’t just midday fatigue or a decline in job performance; it may also lead to obesity.

According to a research report published in the American Journal of Health Promotion, adults who got less than seven hours of sleep per night, known as “short sleepers,” are more likely to eat while doing things like watching TV. It seems that sleeping less can often lead to what is now being called “secondary eating and drinking” while also being engaged in another activity. Secondary eating has nothing to do with being hungry; it’s almost a subconscious act, and over a long period of time those extra calories can cause obesity.

Short sleepers were reported to indulge in secondary eating of foods for between eight and nine minutes per day, and drinking sugary drinks for over 28 minutes on weekdays and 31 minutes on weekends. Over a period of weeks and months, that adds up to about 130 hours of snacking per year and lot of extra calories.

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Researchers reported that the baseline for what is considered “normal sleep time” is between seven and eight hours per day. Secondary eating impacts more than sleep and obesity; it is also linked to breathing problems, hormonal imbalance and the sleep-disorder breathing condition of apnea – the cessation of breathing until the ill person awakens gasping for air. All of these might be considered part of a cycle, because overeating can certainly lead to obesity and more. Quite often weight gain increases both the neck and trunk areas of the body, both of which impact breathing, often leading to sleep apnea in addition to interrupting any hope of restful sleep.

As sleep debt builds up – less than an average of 6.5 hours per night – it can impair metabolism and impact hormonal balance in adults and can impair their long-term health. In younger adults sleep loss negatively impacts their ability to process glucose which is the fuel the body needs to function just as most cars need gasoline to properly operate.

The solution isn’t difficult to implement. Once you’ve finished a meal, particularly in the evening, don’t eat or snack. Put those bowls of snack foods away and out of sight and reach. If you’re thirsty skip sugary drinks and drink water which will help prevent weight gain, diabetes, and sleep disorders.

In addition to changing eating habits, alter your daily routine to allow for at least seven hours of sleep every night because your body needs the time to rest, rebuild and restore. Doing so will pay dividends to your health in the years ahead.

Ron Kauffman is a consultant and expert speaker on issues of aging, Medicare and Obamacare. Ron is the author of Caring for a Loved One with Alzheimer’s Disease, available as a Kindle book on His podcasts can be heard weekly at Contact Ron at 828-696-9799 or by email to