Many of us live sleep-deprived lives. I know I used to say “I’ll sleep when I’m dead!” Your sleep cycle, however, is connected to your quality of life in many ways, so if you have a dysfunctional sleep cycle, you will most likely have an undesirable quality of life. (Begging the question, what’s the point of sleeping when you are dead if you did not live your life to the fullest?) Various studies show a link between lack of sleep and obesity, and while some studies may find those links questionable, it is worth a look to see if your health problems are connected to a lack of sleep.
Sleep and Obesity
In The Impact of Deprivation on Food Desire in the Human Brain, a 2013 paper in Nature Communication, the study found that sleep deprivation increased the desire for high calorie foods. When you are sleep deprived your brain actually wants you to eat more food, even though self-reported hunger was the same as someone who was not sleep deprived.1
If you are young, that does not mean you do not need sleep either. On the contrary, adolescents may be even more affected by sleep deprivation. Obese adolescents have a higher risk of cardiometobolic* disease, and by not getting enough sleep they predispose themselves to other health problems later in life.2
One Korean study showed older folks with poor sleep habits had an association with metabolic syndrome.3 Another study of 54,269 adults over 45 years of age found that one third who self-reported as short sleepers (defined as ≤ 6 hours of sleep per night) and four percent that self-reported as long sleepers (defined as < 10 hours of sleep per night) had significant associations with the following conditions: obesity, frequent mental distress, Coronary Heart Disease (CHD), stroke and diabetes.4
Getting too little or even too much sleep has a correlation to several health issues; however, you should keep in mind that some conditions can lead to further sleeping disturbances, such as sleep apnea. This condition, often linked with obesity, is a respiratory disorder where the sufferer wakes up several times (some even several hundred times) a night due to lack of oxygen.
The Good News About Sleep
This same study also found that those with optimal sleep (7-9 hours per night) had the least associations with the health risks.4 In the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, one clinical trial found that sleeping habits actually improved over a three-month period once they lost weight.5 You want to shoot for that optimal 7-9 hours per night.
8 Tips to Get More Sleep
1. Set a timer to wind down about an hour before you want to go to bed.
2. Avoid screen time for one hour before bed. This means no TV, no computer and no smartphone.
3. Do not drink and sleep, some of you may think alcohol may help with #1 but it can actually act as a stimulant and some people get heartburn from drinking then laying down.
4. Limit caffeine intake, especially if you are sensitive to it.
5. Try not to have an important life conversation or an argument right before going to bed. There is a good chance you will keep replaying the conversation in your head.
6. Get your to-do list out of your head and onto paper. Once it is written down you can stop worrying that you will forget to do something.
7. Do not sleep with your pets. I am guilty of this one and I do suffer for it, but if you are severely sleep deprived consider getting them a nice comfy bed in the room with you, just not on top of you.
8. Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, setting up a routine can help you train your body to sleep.
*Someone with Metabolic Syndrome formerly known as Syndrome X has 3 of the following 5 characteristics6:
1. Triglycerides ≥ 150 mg/dL
2. HDL <40 mg/dL men / <50 mg/dL women
3. Fasting Glucose ≥ 100 mg/dL
4. Blood Pressure ≥ 130/85 mm Hg
5. Abdominal Obesity Waist Circumference > 40 in/102 cm men / > 35 in/88cm women
1. Greer, Goldstein, and Walker. The impact of sleep deprivation on food desire in the human brain. Nature Communication. August 6, 2013.
2. Iglayreger, Peterson, et al. Sleep duration predicts cardiometabolic risk in obese adolescents. The Journal of Pediatrics. May 2013.
3. Lee, Choi, et al. Poor-quality sleep is associated with metabolic syndrome in Korean adults. The Tohoku Journal of Experimental Medicine. 2013.
4. Liu, Wheaton, et al. Sleep Duration and Chronic Diseases among US Adults Age 45 Years and Older: Evidence From the 2010 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System. Sleep. October 1, 2013.
5. Verhoef, Camps, et al. Concomitant changes in sleep duration and body weight and body composition during weight loss and 3-mo weight maintenance. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. July 2013
6. Whitney and Rolfes. Understanding Nutrition. 12th Ed. 2011.