Want to lose weight? Maybe turn off the TV and go to bed

Six years ago I decided to dramatically reduce the amount of time I spent watching TV, and this single intervention (I believe) had a dramatic effect on my life. It liberated a significant amount of time that I could devote to perhaps more useful and rewarding pursuits. You may be thinking that I’m referring to things like writing or exercise. Actually, I’m referring mainly to sleep.

I’d got into the habit of staying up late watching TV in a soft of zombified state. It didn’t seem to matter what I watched either. For instance, on more than one occasion I found myself watching competition poker games in the small hours. The thing is, I don’t even know how to play poker. Somehow, it seems the TV had some irresistible lure, which I finally cured myself of all those years ago. I do watch TV now, but am extremely selective about what I watch (rugby, usually), and I can’t remember the last time I engaged in any late evening viewing.

I was reminded of the fact that I’ve swapped TV viewing for sleep this week on the reading of a letter which appeared recently in the British Journal of Nutrition [1]. The letter, from two people based at the Healthy Active Living and Obesity Research Group (HALO) in Ottawa, Canada, explore the potential links between TV viewing and sleep duration and obesity.

The letter draws our attention to the fact that TV viewing is associated with an increased risk of obesity, while sleep appears to have quite the opposite association. The letter goes on to explore what factors may explain these associations.

So, one factor might be that people who watch a lot of TV are less likely to be physically active. It’s a plausible theory, but it seems there is some evidence to suggest that TV viewing does not put a significant dent in the amount of energy burned through activity. As the letter points out, it is more likely that the most significant factor here is not energy expenditure, but energy intake: individuals watching TV are more likely to see and act on adverts for not very healthy food. I also think the near-constant reminders of food TV ads and programmes can give us make it more likely that we are going to make our way to the fridge or kitchen cupboards for a snack. Also, eating this food in front of the TV runs the risk of us consuming food ‘mindlessly’ – something that may lead to us eating more than we need to satisfy our appetite.

What about sleep? Again, more sleep being associated with a reduced risk of obesity may not make sense at first sight because some may imagine sleep will burn fewer calories than when we’re up and relatively active. However, even if this were the case, it needs to be borne in mind that the longer someone sleeps for, perhaps the less opportunity there is to eat.

Maybe more importantly than this, though, is the evidence cited in the letter relating to the impact of sleep on processes in the body that regulate appetite and therefore food intake. For example, short sleep is associated with higher levels of the appetite-stimulating hormone ghrelin and lower levels of the appetite-sating hormone leptin. Short sleep can also induce insulin resistance, and this might possibly impair transport of glucose into the brain and lead to increased hunger as a result.

Here’s some interesting excerpts from the letter in question:

Although speculative, it is plausible that a few hours of napping on the couch could have a vastly different (and more positive) impact on weight maintenance than an equivalent amount of TV viewing. This raises an obvious question: if you are concerned about your body weight, is it better to sleep through your favourite TV show rather than watching it?

It is perhaps time that clinicians urge their patients to not only reduce their daily amount of TV viewing, but to also replace that TV time with a good night’s sleep. Interventions that focus on increasing sleep time or reducing TV viewing may prove easier to implement than those focused specifically on diet or exercise.

Reducing TV viewing and/or getting adequate sleep require little in the way of resources or expertise, and may therefore be more sustainable than more traditional interventions focused on diet and exercise. If having a good night’s sleep truly is better for your weight than watching TV, this would be a lifestyle modification which may be substantially easier to implement than adopting a new diet or exercise routine. This change of focus is certainly worth consideration, right after a short nap.

So, far fetched though it mat seem, maybe there’s something for us to learn here. Those seeking to attain and maintain a healthy weight might contemplate turning off the TV and getting an earlier night.

References:

1. Saunders TJ, et al. Is obesity prevention as simple as turning off the television and having a nap? Br J Nutr 2012 doi:10.1017/S0007114512002644

10 Responses to Want to lose weight? Maybe turn off the TV and go to bed

  1. Samantha 20 July 2012 at 12:02 am #

    I’ve always followed the idea that if I combine cardio with eating certain foods at the right time, the two dovetail into each other. Once I added proper sleep to it, however, it really made a difference. Here’s what I do:

    Carbs: I eat these within an hour after my workout, while my body is still converting carbs to muscle glycogen rather than fat, leading to muscle gain, fat loss, and a heightened metabolism.

    Proteins: I eat these periodically over the 12-16 hours following my workout, combined with healthy vegetables. This way my body is better able to repair muscle, which is the MOST important part of the workout. Additionally, periodic, smaller feedings further boost your body’s metabolism, boosting fat loss even further.

    Sleep: Here is where I COMPLETELY agree with you. This may sound silly, but sleep deprivation debilitates metabolism and triggers a fat storage response in your body. I try to get around 7 hours of sleep a night, if possible.

    I actually picked most of this up at The Body Mason, but it really worked for me. Check it out for yourself:

    http://TheBodyMason.com

  2. patricia 21 July 2012 at 1:54 am #

    easier said than done, at 78 yrs old, I only seem to need 5 – 6 hrs sleep a night, so if I go to sleep at, say, 10.30, I will be awake, bright eyed & bushy tailed at 3.30 am

  3. Iain Dobson 21 July 2012 at 1:08 pm #

    Another problem these days are the late night computer users, of which I am guilty. I have tried having two days a week that are computer free at home but like the telly, it is a hard habit to kick. You get working on a project, answer a few e-mails and before you know it, it is 1am.

  4. Chris 21 July 2012 at 1:57 pm #

    T S Wiley in her book ‘Lights Out’ advocates 9:30 hours sleep a night for 7 months of the year matching sleep cycles to our circadian rhythms. I am only part way through the book so have not read all the arguments she puts forward yet but she also makes the case for sleep as the cure for a host of diseases including obesity, heart disease, cancer, etc.

  5. Megan 22 July 2012 at 7:57 am #

    The best thing to ever happen to my TV watching is the Sky+ box. I record everything i like to watch, skip over the ads to save at least 15 mins out of every hour and then only watch what I want to. No flicking channel after boring channel. I have my favourite programs, I watch them and that is about it. I am in bed every night at 10-10.30pm and up every morning at 6am. As a self employed person my day is money and I won’t waste it watching TV or sleeping.

  6. Rosie 1 August 2012 at 5:53 pm #

    I have long felt intuitively that when I’m sleep deprived (quite a lot with two small children) I eat more and am drawn to hi-carb foods. When I’m well rested I crave healthy food. When I’m pooped I couldn’t eat a salad or a plate of veg if you paid me. Whatever the science, this is definitely true for me.

  7. Rob 11 August 2012 at 5:30 pm #

    Think this is an area that could do with a lot more study and encouragement, not just for obesity but for overall health. Feel many people would benefit from more sleep allowing their bodies to repair themselves, and would reduce colds and flu and most ailments. Do also agree with the other poster who mentioned computer use. Midnight ‘facebooking’ would be as common as late night tv now.

  8. SueG 22 June 2013 at 1:11 pm #

    While the evidence points to this being a useful tool for weight loss strategy, as Patricia points out, if you go to bed early but wake during the night, does this interfere with the benefit or not? I am a habitual TV watcher and can relate to Dr. J’s previous habits. These days I can curtail it more and am in bed by 12 or earlier, a big improvement but I’m guessing this may still not be good enough.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. More reminders that those wanting to control their weight might want to sleep more | Dr Briffa's Blog - A Good Look at Good Health - 27 February 2013

    [...] All-in-all, the evidence suggests that getting adequate amounts of sleep will assist weight control and have other benefits for health. Some people wonder where they will find the time for more sleep. Well, sleeping in is usually not an attractive option in the week when there’s work to do and kids to get to school etc. So, getting into bed earlier is often the only really viable option. This can mean being quite disciplined about one’s engagement with sleep thieves such as TV-watching. This can not only encroach on sleep time, but can also lead to use eating more. I wrote about this here. [...]

  2. More reminders that those wanting to control their weight might want to sleep more | NEWS from MSL Holdings, LLC - 8 March 2013

    [...] All-in-all, the evidence suggests that getting adequate amounts of sleep will assist weight control and have other benefits for health. Some people wonder where they will find the time for more sleep. Well, sleeping in is usually not an attractive option in the week when there’s work to do and kids to get to school etc. So, getting into bed earlier is often the only really viable option. This can mean being quite disciplined about one’s engagement with sleep thieves such as TV-watching. This can not only encroach on sleep time, but can also lead to use eating more. I wrote about thishere. [...]

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