Obesity And Cholesterol Not Caused By DietObesity is as bad for your heart as smoking according to the American Heart Association, which had singled out excess weight as one of the biggest causes of coronary heart disease as long ago as 1998.

But haven’t we all tried to lose weight and haven’t most of us failed, no matter how careful we were with our diets?

Finally, a new study from the journal JAMA Internal Medicine reveals a hidden cause of weight gain and cholesterol buildup. And this one has nothing to do with diet or exercise.

It happens when you sleep. Not how you sleep—but what’s in your room when you sleep.

If you live somewhere rural, then the chances are that falling asleep won’t be too hard for you compared to a city-dweller, because there won’t be as much light pollution bothering you. Or maybe not. Maybe you’re one of those people who has a TV in your bedroom, or you keep a light on.

The authors of this study were interested to find out how lighting conditions in the room where they slept might affect people, so they issued a questionnaire to 43,722 female volunteers to ask them about it.

The form gave them a choice of no light, a small nightlight, light outside the bedroom, or light/television inside the bedroom.

The researchers also took a whole host of measurements, including weight, waist circumference, hip circumference, and body mass index at both the start and end of the five-year study. This told them whether the lighting conditions in the subject’s bedrooms had an effect on weight gain or obesity.

And, surprisingly, at the end of the study they did notice an effect. The women who gained the least weight slept in dark rooms, whereas those who gained the most slept with a source of light.

How big was the difference?

Compared with women who slept in the dark, those who slept with a light or television on in their rooms were 17% more likely to gain 5 kilograms or more in bodyweight, 13% more likely to gain 10% or more on the body-mass index scale, 22% more likely to be overweight, and 33% more likely to be obese.

Naturally, the more extra weight you’re carrying around, the more likely you are to suffer from health problems such as cardiovascular disease, so this study showed that sleeping with no lights in the room makes a lot of sense for your overall health.

You might think this doesn’t apply to you because you always get your eight hours of sleep, but it seems not. The negative health effects were linked to the amount of light that sleepers were exposed to, regardless of how many hours they slept, the perceived quality of that sleep, how well they ate, or how physically active they were. The amount of weight they gained or lost seemed to be strongly tied to the amount of light in the room where they slept.

Surprisingly, this suggests that even if you are doing everything else that health professionals recommend, like eating well and exercising, but you sleep with artificial light close by or there’s light creeping in from outside, you could still be putting the brakes on your weight-loss efforts and storing up trouble for your heart.

Even small night-lights had an effect on weight, although the worst effects came when there was a light on inside the bedroom. The brighter the light at night, the worse the health effects.

So why might this be happening?

Scientists think that the reason might be chemical in nature. It’s well known that melatonin is released in our bodies when the sun goes down. It’s the hormone that tells our brains to sleep, so it could be that even though your eyes are closed, any light at all could be shutting off the melatonin effect and knocking our 24-hour sleep cycle off track. Once this happens, there’s a cascade of other hormonal effects that follows, with some of them increasing appetite and fat storage.

But there is another ingredient you absolutely must load up on if you want to lose weight. And this ingredient, explained here, has nothing to do with food or drink…

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