The Importance of Sleep and How it Can Affect Your Weight



With National Sleep Awareness Week during the week of March 11, now is the perfect time to talk about the importance of sleep and its connection to weight. The amount of sleep you get can directly impact your health, both mentally and physically, for better or worse.

The Importance of Sleep

When you get enough sleep every day, your overall health benefits — you have the energy you need to get through the day and perform at your best, you feel mentally alert and you experience a more balanced emotional state.

Consistent lack of sleep or poor quality of sleep, on the other hand, can result in energy depletion, decreased productivity, a foggy mental state, imbalanced emotions and even weight gain.

The Connection Between Sleep and Weight Gain

Recent studies have shown a connection between the number of hours a person sleeps and weight gain. These studies suggest that the chances of weight gain increase when an individual gets either less than five hours of sleep or more than nine hours of sleep.

Why the correlation? According to one study, men who were continually deprived of sleep had an increase in their desires for high-calorie foods and their overall calorie intake increased. In another study, women who slept less than six hours or more than nine hours a night were more likely to gain weight compared to women who slept seven hours a night. Yet another study found that sleeping too little prompts people to eat bigger portions of all foods, resulting in weight gain.

Two theories as to why this occurs are:

1. Sleep duration affects hormones that regulate hunger and stimulate appetite. Basically, when we don’t get the proper amount of sleep, we’re hit with a double whammy: our brains crave junk food and lack the impulse control to say no to those cravings.

2) Those who lack for sleep are always fatigued and, therefore, get less physical activity. This can lead to weight gain or interfere with one’s efforts to lose weight.

Tips for a Better Night’s Sleep

Unfortunately, the number of people getting insufficient sleep and/or not getting the quality of sleep their bodies need to function optimally seems to be increasing. If you fall into the camp of those who need to get a good night’s sleep consistently, try the tips below for improved sleep.

  • Follow a sleep-wake schedule by going to bed at the same time and waking up at the same time each day. Be consistent, sticking to it even on weekends. You’ll notice that you feel much more refreshed and energized than if you sleep the same number of hours during different time frames each day.
  • Exercise during the day. People who exercise regularly sleep better at night and feel more awake during the day. Regular exercise can also improve the symptoms of insomnia and sleep apnea.
  • Create a relaxing bedtime ritual that avoids screens for at least an hour before going to bed (this includes the TV, computers and cell phones). Doing so tells your brain that it’s time to wind down and relax. A few ideas to try are reading a book by soft lighting, taking a warm bath, listening to relaxing music or doing simple stretches.
  • Avoid heavy meals and alcohol in the evening, particularly close to bedtime. Spicy or acidic foods can cause heartburn and alcohol can interfere with your sleep cycle.
  • Be aware of when you consume caffeinated beverages and foods such as tea, coffee, soda and chocolate. Try not to consume them after 2 PM because caffeine can stay in your system for several hours, negatively affecting your sleep.
  • Set a peaceful environment that’s conducive to sleep. Turn out the lights, as darkness signals your body to release melatonin, the natural sleep hormone, while light suppresses it. Also, keep the temperature around 65-68 degrees Fahrenheit. When the temperature is too hot or too cold, it can interfere with sleep patterns.
Sound a bit overwhelming? Take it one step at a time. Pick the tip that’s most appealing to you or that you feel you can easily incorporate into your daily routine and start with that one. Once you’ve successfully implemented it, pick another one and continue adding one at a time at your own pace.Before you know it, you’ll be getting a great night’s sleep every night and reaping the positive mental and physical benefits.

The Connection Between Obesity and Sleep Apnea

sleep apneaIt’s no secret that obesity can wreak havoc on your health. Outside of predispositions toward diseases like diabetes and hypertension, obstructive sleep apnea in adults is most commonly caused by excess weight. Sleep apnea is on the rise in the United States, and outside of causing poor sleep quality, it can put sufferers at risk for further health complications. Fortunately, there is often a treatment for sleep apnea that coincides with obesity: weight loss.

Sleep apnea is a relatively common disorder, and even more so now that the majority of Americans are either overweight or obese. The disorder causes sufferers to stop breathing for periods of time in their sleep, which decreases the amount of oxygen in the blood. Sleep apnea is often accompanied by fatigue and sleepiness during the day, and loud, constant snoring at night. If you are both obese and experience any of these symptoms, you may be suffering from sleep apnea.

Studies also show that sleep apnea and the associated fatigue that comes along with it can reduce your ability to live a healthy lifestyle. When you’re tired and cranky, you’re much less likely to go to the gym and cook dinner instead of pulling through a fast food drive-thru and watching Netflix on the couch all night. If you have a predisposition toward or diagnosis of diabetes, sleep apnea may also exacerbate this condition.

When you lose weight, you remove pressure on your airways and make it easier for your body to breathe. By reducing the weight of tissue surrounding the airways, the lungs are able to more effectively provide oxygen to the rest of your body. Even a small weight loss—10% of your body mass—can result in improved sleep apnea symptoms. For severe sufferers, a combination of weight loss and assisted breathing devices may be needed to fully treat the condition.

Not everyone who is obese has sleep apnea, but those with obesity are much more at risk of developing the disorder than people at a healthy weight. According to the Cleveland Clinic, studies show that bariatric surgery can have a positive effect on sleep apnea, often to the point of resolving it altogether. Data shows that bariatric surgery is the most effective treatment for sleep apnea, and at least 80% of patients enter sleep apnea remission once they have lost enough weight.

If you experience sleep apnea and the associated side effects, Dr. Dirk may be able to help you get your restful nights back, along with a host of other positive benefits for your health. Even if you don’t think that sleep apnea is causing problems in your life, it is likely wreaking havoc that your body will pay for later.