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Sleep is something to which most of us devote about one third of our lifetime, but it is a process about which science still has a lot of unanswered questions. A good night’s rest ensures that body and mind work at full capacity, it can boost the immune system, and importantly for people who are in training, sleep is vital for muscle growth and repair.

We know that many aspects of sleep are governed by circadian rhythms, which are the cyclical fluctuations of hormones and chemical messengers within our body. Scientists have even discovered genes that play a role in determining how much sleep each person needs, and whether they are early risers or night owls. Sleep research is an exciting area of study.

One area of sleep research that is generating a lot of interest is the relationship between sleep duration and chronic illness. Previous studies have shown that people who get less sleep are more likely to suffer from conditions including obesity, hypertension, and diabetes.

A large group of researchers from a number of disciplines, including sleep scientists, nutritionists, and genetics researchers recently collaborated to try to shed some more light on the nature of this relationship, and ultimately use their findings to look for possible ways to reduce the incidence of chronic disease. The results of nine studies, incorporating more than 14,000 participants were used to analyse the relationship between a number of factors including sleep duration, BMI and proportionate intake of each macronutrient. This data was then cross-referenced to the participants' genetic information to look for any genes that might be involved.

The researchers found an association between habitually shorter sleep duration and higher BMI, which agreed with previous findings.

Interestingly, macronutrient intake differed according to age group. Younger participants who slept longer had a lower intake of saturated fats, while older participants who slept longer ate more fat overall. This was due to a higher intake of polyunsaturated fat, which is generally considered 'healthy' because it plays a role in lowering LDL (or ‘bad’) cholesterol. Overall, older participants also took in fewer carbohydrates if they were well slept.

The researchers also found that the relationship between sleep duration and the intake of some nutrients has a genetic component. The study isolated two genes of interest, one of which is involved in the intake of polyunsaturated fat, and another with a relationship to protein intake. The researchers found a particular variant of each gene which seemed to make carriers more prone to the effects of sleep duration on the consumption of that nutrient.

So what does this all mean? Overall, the researchers were able to conclude that longer sleep duration was associated with lower rates of obesity and healthier dietary behaviours. They believe the fact that people who slept for a shorter duration were shown to consume higher levels of unhealthy fats and carbohydrates is important in linking sleep duration to metabolic conditions like diabetes and heart disease.

Additionally, because of the relationship between sleep, nutrient intake and genes, the researchers believe that people who have a genetic predisposition to obesity may be able to minimise the eating behaviours that lead to excess weight gain and 'cheat' their genetics by ensuring that they obtain sufficient sleep.

If you’re trying to drop a few kilos, one of the best things you can do is make sure you’re getting enough shut eye. If you’re one of those people who has a bit of trouble getting enough sleep, or you want to ensure your slumber is deep and restful, there are a number of effective, natural sleep supplements available to choose from.

Elemental Nutrition Sleep & Grow is an all in one product which combines a number of powerful relaxants, including neurotransmitters, amino acids, and botanical extracts with the best testosterone boosters for optimal results.

Musashi Calming is a fantastic blend of relaxing plant extracts and muscle building magnesium, specifically designed to calm you down after a workout. Gentle and effective, this is a must for anyone who trains at night.

Ronnie Coleman Resurrect PM is a best selling product from the man himself, designed for busy people with hectic lifestyles, and promises the most hardcore sleep you’ve ever had, in addition to maximising the body’s natural testosterone and HGH levels.

Dashti HS, Follis JL, Smith CE, Tanaka T, Cade BE, Gottlieb DJ, Hruby A, Jacques PF, Lamon-Fava S, Richardson K, Saxena R, Scheer FA, Kovanen L, Bartz TM, Perälä MM, Jonsson A, Frazier-Wood AC, Kalafati IP, Mikkilä V, Partonen T, Lemaitre RN, Lahti J, Hernandez DG, Toft U, Johnson WC, Kanoni S, Raitakari OT, Perola M, Psaty BM, Ferrucci L, Grarup N, Highland HM, Rallidis L, Kähönen M, Havulinna AS, Siscovick DS, Räikkönen K, Jørgensen T, Rotter JI, Deloukas P, Viikari JS, Mozaffarian D, Linneberg A, Seppälä I, Hansen T, Salomaa V, Gharib SA, Eriksson JG, Bandinelli S, Pedersen O, Rich SS, Dedoussis G, Lehtimäki T, Ordovás JM. Habitual sleep duration is associated with BMI and macronutrient intake and may be modified by CLOCK genetic variants. Am J Clin Nutr. 2015 Jan;101(1):135-43.

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