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The sleep diet: a link between sleep & weight loss?

Filed in
  • Obesity
  • Sleep apnea

Sleep Education Archive  |  Jun 18, 2007
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Through the years dieters in the U.S. have tried everything from grapefruits to red meat to achieve weight-loss success. Does research show that sleep is the simple solution for the overweight and obese, or is the “sleep diet” just another passing fad?

In the U.S. the rate of obesity is rising at an alarming pace among all age groups and all races. About two-thirds of U.S. adults are either overweight or obese. This leads to a higher risk of problems such as high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke and cancer.

Obesity simply means that you have too much body fat. This places stress on your heart, blood-vessel system and joints. The body mass index (BMI) is an easy way to estimate your level of body fat. It uses a formula to compare your weight with your height. An adult with a BMI between 25 and 29.9 is considered overweight. An adult with a BMI of 30 or higher is considered obese.

In recent years research has shown an intriguing link between sleep and BMI. People who sleep for fewer hours each night tend to have a higher BMI than people who sleep longer. Other studies have linked sleep to some of the hormones that help control body weight and appetite.

People who sleep less tend to have lower levels of leptin. This is a hormone that helps suppress your appetite and increase your metabolism. At the same time sleep loss tends to increase your level of ghrelin. This hormone stimulates appetite. As a result people who sleep less may eat more. They also may eat more foods that are unhealthy. Study subjects have been show to crave sweets, starch and salty snacks when their sleep is restricted.

Obesity also is a risk factor for a common sleep disorder called obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). People with OSA stop breathing up to hundreds of times per night. This ruins the quality of their sleep and causes excessive daytime sleepiness.

So is getting more sleep the simple solution to weight loss? Sleep does appear to play a role in helping your body manage its weight. But the cause of weight gain is much more complex.

Multiple hormones and body systems help regulate weight and appetite. The amount and type of food you consume is a critical factor. Your level of physical activity is another important consideration.

Sleep is not the only answer to the problem of obesity. But it should be seen as part of the solution, along with a healthy diet and exercise. Sleeping well is a vital part of improving both your health and quality of life.

But people who have a sleep disorder such as OSA may be unable to sleep well. The most common warning sign for sleep apnea is loud and frequent snoring. Although OSA can afflict adults at any age, it is most common in overweight, middle-age men.

Discuss your sleep problems with your primary care doctor. Let him or her know if your sleep problem is causing you distress or affecting you during the day. Your doctor may refer you to a sleep specialist for more help. Sleep specialists are doctors who are trained to help people with ongoing sleep problems.