"I think there's room for us to learn more about the underlying mechanisms," Mehra says. But she notes that losing sleep is likely contributing to metabolic disregulation, at the very least: "I think we can pretty safely say, getting insufficient sleep is detrimental to your health," including metabolic health.
Not all doctors—and certainly not all patients—currently focus on sleep as a potentially important intervention for weight loss and metabolic health. For example, people trying to lose weight, especially via calorie reduction and exercise, might find it particularly difficult to feel full, ignore cravings for unhealthful foods and get enough high-energy exercise if they are short on sleep. "Clinicians assisting in weight-loss interventions may improve patient outcomes by discussing sleep time within a healthy lifestyle intervention," the researchers noted. Mehra adds that many of the patients referred to her for sleep-related concerns seem surprised to hear they should be getting more sleep.
Of course, getting more sleep can be difficult, especially with perpetually lit indoor environments and the glow of screens confusing our circadian rhythms. "Demands of a modern lifestyle, excessive time in front of brightly lit computer and television screens, shift work and jet lag, among other factors, result in partial sleep deprivation," Shlisky and her colleagues noted. But this new report, and other accumulating studies, suggest that it might be an important, and relatively simple step—compared with eating well and exercising—in the battle against the bulge, and for a healthy life in general.