Obesity, Brown Fat and Being a Night Owl; What Glasses are YOU Wearing?

sleep and brown fat

karuka/Dollar Photo Club

It seems like there is a definite trend of families (both parents and kids) not getting to sleep at a decent hour.  There are lots of issues with this.

“Sure,” you say, “from the guy up at 11 PM starting to write a blog post.  I would be the first to admit that I probably don’t get enough sleep several nights a week.  (Which is why I start to blather towards the end of this article)  But the rest of my lifestyle is in line with what I recommend to my patients.

So why is lack of sleep a big deal?  For starters, there are some clear links between light maps of the United States and rates of breast cancer.  There are also links between lack of sleep and pretty much every single chronic disease.  And this includes obesity.

While the mechanism by which poor sleep contributes to chronic disease is not completely understood, there are a few things we do know:

  1. By not getting enough sleep, we may not spend enough time in the deeper stages of sleep when tissue healing and memories are implanted.
  2. Problems falling asleep may be due to stress and stress pretty much kills.  Enough said.
  3. Melatonin is a hormone produced in the pineal gland deep in the brain when light on the blue end of the spectrum no longer strikes the retina.  Melatonin serves several purposes, but one of these is to act as an antioxidant in the brain, protecting it from damage.
  4. None this even begins to address how much damage sleep apnea does to the body and brain.

This particular article gives us some additional insight but it takes it from a different angle.  Rather than looking at not getting enough sleep or when we go to bed, researchers asked to question about total light exposure’s effect on obesity.  In other words, how much light are you exposed to during the day.

If you think about it, we were really only designed to be exposed to light from the blue end of the spectrum during daylight hours.  Blue light tells our system that it is time to be awake and running around looking for food, shelter and a mate to club over the head and drag back to the cave.

The problem is that almost all of our electronic devices emit light at this end of the spectrum.  Cell phones, TVs, tablets, IPads, overhead lights.  They will all interfere with our sleep wake cycle.  Just in case you or your child stares at one of these devices anytime after sunset, you could consider trying one of the blue blocking glasses that can be found on Amazon by clicking here.  It’s a pretty small investment for something that could potentially make a big difference.

In the study, researchers exposed mice to a prolonged day lengths (16 and 24 hours instead of the regular 12 hours).  Here’s what happened:

  • The was increased fat but not an increase in food intake or activity.
  • This increased exposure to light led to a change in the activity of brown fat.  Brown fat is a literal fat-burning factory, burning calories only to make heat.

For those of you who have read some of my prior articles on brown fat, it really is something that we all want to have more of.  More brown fat = lower rates of obesity and diabetes.  Anything that is going to increase the amount of brown fat we have is generally a good thing, while anything that slows down the activity of or reduces the number of brown fat cells is a bad thing.

If you or your child are a night owl, could getting a pair of blue blocking glasses (or, better yet, shut down that IPad or TV…) actually keep you from gaining weight?  According to this study the answer may be yes.


James Bogash

For more than a decade, Dr. Bogash has stayed current with the medical literature as it relates to physiology, disease prevention and disease management. He uses his knowledge to educate patients, the community and cyberspace on the best way to avoid and / or manage chronic diseases using lifestyle and targeted supplementation.