Life Extension Magazine
Research Links Sleep Loss With Weight Gain
Two trends are simultaneously worsening.
As sleep deprivation rates surge higher, so do the numbers of overweight and obese people. Human research links sleep loss with weight gain.
Published reports associated sleep loss with a 15% decrease in life expectancy. What’s stumped everyone are effective solutions for chronic sleep disorders.
Over the past three years, four studies have been published that reveal a partial solution in the form of a low-cost supplement. Differing doses of the herb ashwagandha have been used by Americans for decades. Its ability to improve sleep was recently validated.
A 2019 placebo-controlled study showed that a lower potency ashwagandha extract taken twice a day reduced stress and anxiety, and demonstrated “significant improvement in sleep quality.” A more impressive 2020 placebo-controlled study used a new ashwagandha that is more concentrated and taken only once at bedtime.
The results found improvements as high as 72% across a wide spectrum of sleep measures. Those challenged with getting enough quality sleep should consider novel approaches being uncovered in the published scientific literature.
The ability to reduce one’s calorie intake and disease risk in response to better sleep makes achieving restorative nocturnal rest a New Year’s priority. This might happen with the proper use of ashwagandha and other approaches that yield ancillary health benefits.
Impact of Sleep on Hunger
Most of us who suffer a night of non-restorative sleep tend to eat more the next day. Epidemiologic evidence links sleep loss with obesity.
An underlying cause involves changes in brain activity that increase our desire for high-calorie foods that cause weight gain.
Other factors linking weight gain to sleep deprivation are increases in hormones like ghrelin that stimulate hunger, and decreases in leptin that suppress appetite.
One epidemiological study found that older adults sleeping less than five hours per night are at approximately 40% greater risk of becoming obese compared to those sleeping seven to eight hours per night.
Sleep-Deprived People Age Faster
Age-related disorders accelerate in response to insufficient sleep.
Harvard University Medical School published a report revealing the many health problems associated with sleep loss including:
- Immune impairment
- Cardiovascular disease
- Type II diabetes
- Common colds
The Harvard report referred to a study showing those who slept less than seven hours a night are nearly three times more likely to develop cold symptoms compared to those who slept eight or more hours.
Those with good sleep “quality” were the least likely to contract a common cold. This Harvard report described three separate studies suggesting that insufficient sleep may increase mortality (death) risk by 15%.
The Whitehall II Sleep Study
The world woke up to the importance of sleep with the publication of a huge, multi-decade study conducted in Britain. The study found that as people aged and their sleep duration shortened, risk of cardiovascular death more than doubled.
The Whitehall II study has been referred to in numerous articles as demonstrating the lethal dangers of sleep deprivation. Newly published research supports many of its findings.
Impact of Sleep on Cardiovascular Risks
A recent study published online in the Journal of Preventive Cardiology analyzed data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES). A total of 17,635 eligible participants were followed for a median of 7.5 years to determine if they died from a heart attack, heart failure or stroke–in other words, to determine their cardiovascular mortality.
Researchers divided participants into three groups depending on their average sleep as follows:
- Less than six hours,
- Six to seven hours, and
- More than seven hours.
These people were tracked to ascertain how many in each group died from cardiovascular causes. Those who slept less than six hours a night had a 45% increased risk of cardiovascular death compared to those who slept six to seven hours each night.
What confused people about this study is that it showed that those who slept more than seven hours each night also had an increased death risk.
We at Life Extension received calls about this and explained that this study measured sleep duration (number of hours) and not sleep quality.
We opined that people with underlying degenerative illnesses tend to require longer sleep periods, often because their “sleep quality” is impaired.
Measuring “Quality” Sleep
Restorative sleep is a critical aspect of the overall sleep experience yet many people are challenged to obtain restful sleep.
Early research focused on number of hours slept and not as much on the “quality” of sleep architecture. Sleep quality can now be assessed with monitors as small as wristwatches.
This enables scientists to conduct clinical trials that precisely measure a variety of sleep parameters.
Highly Standardized Ashwagandha
Non-restorative sleep is an indicator of poor sleep “quality” that goes beyond mere number of hours slept.
Studies published in 2019, 2020, and 2021 describe the ability of ashwagandha extracts to improve the overall sleep experience. The results from these studies provide consistent data about ashwagandha’s ability to enable a better night’s rest.
A new highly concentrated ashwagandha extract may have demonstrated more comprehensive enhancements to both sleep quantity and quality. In a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial published in 2020, 150 people scoring high on non-restorative sleep measures were given a new highly standardized ashwagandha extract at bedtime.
Using a validated monitor worn on the wrist like a wristwatch, the following six sleep measures were assessed:
- Onset of sleep (how long it took to fall asleep)
- Sleep efficiency (percentage of time asleep while in bed)
- Total sleep time (number of hours slept)
- Average number of awakenings during the night
- Average times waking after sleep onset
- Total bedtime
At the end of the six-week study, the ashwagandha group showed a significant increase in total sleep time compared to placebo. Compared to placebo, the time to fall asleep and waking after sleep onset in the ashwagandha group were significantly reduced.
Sleep efficiency significantly improved in the ashwagandha arm of the 2020 published study. This means more time was spent asleep while in bed. Overall improvement in restorative sleep was 72% in the ashwagandha arm of this study, indicating a meaningful enhancement of nightly rest.
The improvements demonstrated by the wrist monitors were clinically significant in the 2020 ashwagandha sleep study. A second measure of perceived benefits also yielded intriguing findings.
Questionnaires to evaluate quality of life were used at baseline, and six weeks later in both the placebo and ashwagandha extract groups.
Compared to baseline, the ashwagandha group showed quality-of-life improvements, which is expected in response to enhanced sleep quality and quantity.
Comparing Ashwagandha Sleep Studies
Consistent findings from human trials support a role for standardized ashwagandha in enabling more restful sleep.
The primary active constituents of ashwagandha are withanolides. Three of the recent sleep studies used two daily ashwagandha doses providing up to 30 mg of withanolides.
The fourth study used a higher concentration ashwagandha extract that provided 42 mg of withanolides in one nighttime dose. What jumped to my attention is that the new higher concentrated ashwagandha (42 mg) yielded robust results with once nightly dosing, rather than having to take it twice daily like in other studies.
Wrist-monitor data from the higher concentrated ashwagandha (42 mg of withanolides) taken once nightly indicated better sleep improvements.
In This Month’s Issue…
Many of you are determined to shed body fat to reduce your risk of degenerative illnesses. This might be impossible if you also suffer chronic sleep deprivation.
The article on page 34 of this issue describes how highly standardized ashwagandha + melatonin can enable more restorative sleep and an improved sense of wellbeing. While there are no miraculous weight loss pills, a novel formulation described on page 44 enabled 5% weight loss to occur in obese individuals over a two-month period.
Combining standardized ashwagandha + melatonin at bedtime with more sensible eating, regular physical activity, and 5% weight loss can improve healthy longevity. I want to thank readers of Life Extension Magazine® for their generous support in 2021.
As we aim to reverse human aging processes, improved sleep and reduced body fat are side benefits we plan to assess in upcoming clinical trials.
ASSOCIATIONS BETWEEN INADEQUATE SLEEP AND OBESITY IN UNITED STATES ADULTS 1977–2009
A startling 73% of the U.S. population are defined medically as being overweight or obese.
This means the excess pounds they carry increase their risk of degenerative disorders.
A 2014 published study looked at sleeping habits and obesity incidences starting in 1977. At the time, Americans did not have 24/7 television and computers and digital entertainment and electronic information. Time spent in front of display screens, especially late at night, was dramatically less back then than it is now.
When the study period (1977 to 2009) ended, the following figures were observed in the United States:
Prevalence of Obesity
Prevalence of Overweight
Prevalence of Very Short Sleep (<5 hours)
Prevalence of Short Sleep (5-6 hours)
Prevalence of Long Sleep
Analyses of these data showed that relative to seven to eight hour sleepers, very short sleepers had 30% greater odds of being overweight or were twice as likely to be obese.
Likewise, short sleepers had 20% greater odds of being overweight or 57% greater odds of being obese. (Long sleepers had 20% greater odds of being obese, but no greater odds of being overweight.) These findings are not surprising. Prevalence of very short and short sleep has gradually increased in recent decades. The authors of this study concluded:
“Inadequate sleep was associated with overweight and obesity for each available year.”
For longer life,
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