Sleep Deprivation and Weight

Those who are sleep-deprived are more likely to be obese and have medical problems.

Millions of Americans only get five to six hours of sleep each night, not knowing that maintaining such sleep patterns can cause them to become dangerously overweight, resulting in many health issues.

How to get a better night’s sleep:

  • Before bed, gradually dim your lights, mimicking the onset of darkness in the time before our homes had electricity.
  • Abrupt changes in brightness and sound can disrupt your sleep. Sleeping with the TV on is just about the worst thing you can do.
  • Keep it cool: Your body must be “thermally neutral” for optimal sleep, which happens between 65°F and 70°F.
  • A good air purifier will help.
  • Don’t eat before bed. Digestion raises body temperature, resulting in poor sleep.
  • Don't drink caffeinated beverages for seven hours before bed!
  • Get a better pillow and mattress. Your spine should be naturally aligned. A pillow too thick or too thin will give you pain and cause restless sleep.

If you're sleep-deprived, you're more likely to be overweight, and if you're both, you're more likely to be at risk for type 2 diabetes, hypertension, elevated cholesterol and cardiovascular complications.

But it doesn’t end there. “If you sleep less than six hours a night, you are 15 to 20 percent more likely to be overweight or obese,” says Pete Bils, director of clinical research for Select Comfort, who has conducted 15 sleep studies on quality of sleep. A healthy sleeping pattern means going to bed at the same time each night and waking up at the same time each morning, without an alarm clock, approximately seven to eight hours later.

“If you can lie down in a quiet, cool, dark room anytime during daytime and fall asleep, especially within five to eight minutes, you are sleep-deprived,” says Bils.

And if you’re already significantly overweight, you may be at higher risk for sleep deprivation, according to Carol Ash, DO, former medical director of the Sleep for Life Program at Somerset Medical Center in Somerville, New Jersey. “Obese people tend to [have higher body temperatures and] be too warm, and that can interfere with restful sleep.”

Moreover, Ash says people who are continuously tired may tend to eat more to try to stay energized or eat more simply because they are awake more hours of the day, which can lead to weight gain. But there is also a growing area of research to suggest that being sleep-deprived affects your weight issues on a hormonal level. “Without sufficient sleep, leptin, a hormone that suppresses appetite, is reduced in the body, while ghrelin, a hormone that stimulates appetite, is increased,” she explains. Some studies have found that these hormonal changes may also increase cravings for high-carbohydrate sweets and salty foods.

Bils says often times society views people who sleep less and work more as more productive or successful, but that quite the opposite is true. “That’s what I call societal sleep deprivation — sleep deprivation by choice,” he says. “There’s a state of denial, and people think it’s normal until it gets to the point that it negatively affects your daytime functioning. And if that happens when they are behind the wheel, you don’t know what could happen.”

When the experience of sleep is that only minutes have passed between sleep and waking, that's healthy. If you’re aware of the sleep process, such as waking often during the night or tossing and turning, you’re not getting totally restorative rest.
Ash says the United States is a “nation in a sleep crisis.” She cites the primary social reasons for sleep deprivation as the advent of technology and increased time at work. “Before electricity was discovered, most people wound down their daily activities when darkness fell because they had no real choice,” she says. “Today we live in a 24-7 society, and TVs, computers and video games are competitors for our time.”

There are also biological reasons for sleep deprivation, including sleep disorders like sleep apnea and insomnia, both of which may need medical treatment.

The side effects of sleep deprivation can also translate into other kinds of problems in the bedroom — and we’re not talking about sleep. It can have negative effects on your sex life. “A sleep-deprived person does not have the energy to tend to the needs of his or her partner,” says Joyce Walsleben, PhD, former head of Behavioral Sleep Medicine at New York University. She says the mental stress that goes along with being sleep-deprived should also not be overlooked and can lead to depression and mood changes.

Walsleben says that despite the numerous negative effects of sleep deprivation, it’s something that can be altered with some minor life changes. “Sleep deprivation can be prevented by giving sleep as much importance as [you would] food and water,” she says. “Start adding 15 minutes of sleep each night for a week, then another 15 minutes the following week until you feel better. Small nightly additions help over time without disrupting schedules.”

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Wellness, Managing Stress, Sleep, Healthy Living
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