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Weight and Sleep: A Chicken and Egg Problem

Everyone has heard the old question which came first, the chicken or the egg.  New research has people wondering the same thing about weight and sleep.  Past studies have shown that one of the consequences of sleep deprivation can be weight gain.  When we don’t get the sleep we need it messes with our hormones and causes issues with energy, metabolism, and how effectively our body functions.  Lack of sleep often leads to weight gain and people who are overweight report more problems sleeping than their average-weight peers. If lack of sleep makes you gain weight could the converse be true?  Could losing weight make it easier to get the sleep you need?

A new study completed by the John Hopkins University School of Medicine and presented at the American Heart Association’s 2012 Scientific Sessions indicates says yes.  The research team found that losing weight by dieting or dieting and exercising can make it easier to get a good night sleep.

The study was conducted over 6 months and included 77 participants.  All participants were overweight or obese and had been diagnosed with either type II diabetes or pre-diabetes.  Each participant was asked to complete a sleep survey at the start of the study that captured information about their current sleep habits, issues with sleep, sleep disorders, and other data related to the quality and quantity of sleep they were getting. Then each participant was assigned to one of two groups.  The first group was put on a weight loss diet and the second group was put on a weight loss diet and exercise program.   The BMI of each participant was tracked over the 6 month period and a second sleep survey was conducted at the end of the study.

The team found that on average all participants lost 15 pounds over the course of the study and reported that their sleep quality improved by about 20%.  Additionally, each participant lost about 15% of their belly fat. This finding seems to be the key to the overall result.  Reducing body fat, especially fat carried in the belly, resulted in quantifiable improvements in sleep quality regardless of the participants age or gender.  The method used to lose the weight and the fat also did not seem to matter, participants who lost the weight through diet and through diet and exercise saw the same improvement in sleep quality.

This finding is important because of the other risks a high percentage of belly fat can pose.  Fat carried in the belly can increase overall inflammation in the body which increases the risk for heart disease and causes other problems in how the body functions.  The new findings only strengthen the case for dedicating the time and energy needed to lose weight in order to ensure good health now and over the long term.

While it is still unclear whether lack of sleep causes obesity or if obesity causes problems with sleep, this research offers the hope that losing weight can help address this issue regardless of which one comes first.


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