The startling statistic today is that more than one-third of American adults are obese and childhood obesity has more than tripled in the past 30 years. Doctors know there are several factors behind obesity including: more sedentary lifestyles (lack of regular physical activity) and excessive caloric intake in addition to a person’s genes and their environment. They’ve also noted a connection between the fact that Americans are sleeping less and they have begun studying whether sleep deprivation and obesity are connected.

In the past our ancestors slept about nine to ten hours a night and we are now sleeping, on average, seven hours. Researchers found that sleeping less than six hours a night increased the likelihood of obesity. They also found a connection between obesity and going to sleep after midnight.  A study conducted in 2002 found that increases in body mass index (BMI) occurred in individuals when they habitually got less than seven hours of sleep a night.  Researchers found that overweight and obese individuals slept less hours per night than individuals who were not obese.

As children sleep less, obesity levels rise. A study in the British Medical Journal found that short sleep duration at age 30 months is a predictor of obesity in children by the time they reached seven years of age. The study leads researchers to believe that poor sleep could have a permanent impact on the hypothalamus – the part of the brain that regulates appetite and energy.

Individuals who slept less than four hours a night for a period of one week experienced impaired glucose tolerance – a precursor to diabetes – they also experienced hypertension and changes in hormones related to weight gain. Researchers found the changes were reversible once the individuals returned to their normal sleep times.

Obesity in children raises other concerns as well. The increase in obesity has been tied to increased incidence of sleep apnea in these individuals. The Center for Disease Control conducted a 20-year study of obesity-associated diseases among children aged six to 17-years-old and found that among those who had obesity related diseases, an increased incidence of 436% of sleep apnea was noted.

In adults, an estimated 18 million suffer from sleep apnea and this is often associated with those who are overweight. “As the person gains weight, especially in the trunk and neck area, the risk of sleep-disordered breathing increases due to compromised respiratory function,” say Margaret Moline, PhD, and Lauren Broch, PhD, two sleep specialists at New York Weill Cornell Medical Center.

Since 2002, Valley Sleep Center, accredited by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, has provided Arizona with diagnostic sleep disorder testing in a home-like atmosphere, ensuring a comfortable, relaxing experience for patients.  Their Board Certified Sleep Medicine Specialists consist of experienced and knowledgeable physicians who provide expert advice across a multitude of sleep related disorders including insomnia, sleep apnea, snoring, excessive daytime sleepiness, hypertension, sleepwalking, and pediatric sleep problems.  They accept most insurance plans as well as Medicare.  For more information contact Lauri Leadley at 480-830-3900;