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At this extremely busy time of year, it may seem like even more of a challenge to maintain your weight along with your good attitude. Could it be because you are not getting enough sleep?

Through the years I’ve blogged often on how important sleep is to your health. And it’s simply so important that I wanted to have a chat about it again.

I read an interesting article describing how metabolic syndrome, described as insulin resistance, a pro-inflammatory state, hypertension-elevated sympathetic tone, dyslipidemia, dysglycemia and obesity – is actually a survival advantage for animals in the wild during seasons of stress, like in the winter. Their physiological processes are tied to their biological clocks, which regulate all the major activities of the body like behavior, metabolism, reproduction and immunity. As days shorten and animals behave differently, they sleep more or less. As a response, their bodies create “metabolic syndrome” which helps them to survive. Here’s the news. Animals don’t suffer any pathology from the metabolic changes since they are not chronic, ongoing adaptations.

The biological clock pacemaker system for our own bodies is located primarily in the hypothalamus. Sleep disruptions whether too little sleep, even too much sleep or medical conditions like sleep apnea over time have been found to lead consistently to metabolic syndrome in humans. Sadly for us, due to chronic stress and sleep disruptions, our bodies respond as though winter survival is necessary all year long, every day! This may explain why, although we may try to lose weight through excellent dietary shifts, the pounds may stubbornly stay glued to our hips.

Sleep deprivation can also change your genes! In one study conducted in the UK, blood samples taken after just one week of getting fewer than six hours of sleep a night showed changes to more than 700 genes due to sleep deprivation alone. Eek! The genes affected seemed to be in the area of immune, stress and inflammatory responses. I don’t know about you, but I really want those particular types of genes to be in top form in my body!

An entertaining episode of Secret Eaters, a UK based TV show that examines weight issues in England, conducted a research project with two groups of people. One group was allowed to sleep soundly through the night. The other group was awakened a number of times to focus and complete a survey. The groups weren’t told the true reason for this study. The next day, the two groups were offered the same foods. The group whose sleep was disrupted actually consumed 35% more carbs and fats than the well-rested group. Wow!

If you’re confounded by weight that just won’t budge, please carefully review your sleeping habits. Turn off the television, drink hot tea, journal, pray, meditate, breathe. Here are some other great tips to help you get to sleep.

Allowing your body and mind to recognize that it can rest and restore itself will pay off in so many ways, and certainly give you a happier holiday season. Although it may be winter outside at this time of year, our bodies in our warm, safe houses don’t need to behave as though it’s “metabolic winter” in the wild. That good night sleep may keep those pounds at bay and put big smiles on your face too!