In a study that shakes up conventional wisdom - and my thinking - about weight loss, researchers at Case Western University found something much more important than diet and exercise. And it wasn't a drug or a supplement. It was sleep!

I know . I couldn't believe it either. But this is the largest long-term study on sleep and weight ever conducted. The researchers monitored nearly 70,000 women for 15 years. They divided the women into two groups, those who sleep five hours or less per night and those who sleep seven hours per night. Then they compared the weight gain of the two groups.

The study found that the women who got only five hours of sleep per night gained 30% more weight during the study than those who got at least seven hours. Sleep quality was important as well. Light sleepers carried a significantly greater risk of becoming obese.

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The researchers found that sleep patterns had a much greater influence on a woman's long-term weight than eating habits or physical activity. That really surprised me too. But it wasn't the biggest surprise of this study.

The researchers also found that those who slept less actually ate less. This really surprised me, as I expected just the opposite. But it does help explain why sleep is so important to weight loss. It suggests that less sleep actually lowers your metabolic rate. Here's how: Sleep affects hormones that regulate your appetite. Lead researcher, Dr. S. Patel, said that just a few nights of sleep restriction can affect these hormones, throwing your metabolism out of whack.

Action to take: If this study is correct, sleep is a much greater contributor to your long-term weight problem than diet. Given the size of this study, it shows adequate sleep may solve a difficult weight problem. So make sure you get at least seven hours of sleep every night.

If sleep apnea is keeping you from getting a good night's rest, search my website for my articles on Farrand Robson, DDS of Tacoma, Washington. He has an ingenious cure for most cases of sleep apnea.

And if you have difficulty falling asleep, try melatonin (1-3 mg a half hour before going to bed) or a cup of chamomile tea.

Ref: American Thoracic Society International Conference, San Diego, May 19-24, 2006.

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