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Getting more sleep could cut junk food cravings in half

Craving donuts and bacon for breakfast? If salty, fatty foods are your dietary downfall, scientists have some advice: The secret to fighting these high-calorie temptations could come down to getting a good night's sleep.

A new study found that when sleep-deprived, overweight adults got an average of 96 extra minutes of sleep per night, it cut their cravings for sweet and salty junk food by 62 percent and reduced their overall appetite by 14 percent.

Of course, finding time for that extra hour and a half of sleep is not always easy, but the researchers say the study participants realized it is doable and that the benefits are real.

"Most people think that because we have other responsibilities, we don't have time to sleep," study author Dr. Esra Tasali, an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Chicago Medicine, said in a statement. "But we were able to use an individualized sleep hygiene intervention and extend sleep by 1.6 hours on average for two weeks. "

At the outset of the study, the participants reported sleeping less than 6.5 hours a night. During the first week, they continued their usual sleeping habits at home while wearing activity monitors that objectively assessed how long they slept.

After the first week, the researchers asked the people about their sleep habits, home environments and lifestyles. The investigators then provided the participants with instructions to optimize their daily bedtimes for the next two weeks; tips included not watching TV or using the Internet right before going to sleep.

By the end of the experiment, the people had slept for an average 96 minutes more per night than they did before the study began -- close to the optimal 8 hours a night. They also said they felt less sleepy and more energetic in the morning. In addition, they reported being less hungry and having reduced cravings for salty and fatty foods.

When we are sleep deprived, we incur a metabolic cost for being awake, Tasali said. So we tend to compensate for this extra energy expenditure by eating. With all the tempting snack foods so widely available, we tend to overeat and choose unhealthy foods. But extra sleep can help reduce temptation.

Previous research has also shown that people who get less than six hours of sleep per night are at an increased risk for gaining weight and obesity.

Unfortunately, one third of U.S. adults get less than six hours of sleep a night, the CDC says, rather than the recommended seven to eight hours.

"Sleep extension is feasible in real life settings despite people's busy schedules," Tasali said. "It could be utilized as an additive strategy in our battle with this obesity epidemic, and future trials should be done to add sleep extension as a behavioral strategy in addition to diet and exercise."

The new study is published in the September issue of the journal Appetite.

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