Updated at: 11-01-2022 - By: Jane Brody

Traditional knowledge held that one’s weight is a direct result of one’s diet and exercise habits. However, we now know that there is more to weight gain than what we eat and how much exercise we get. A person’s genetics, social background, communal environment, stress, and overall health all influence their weight. In addition, because sleep deprivation is a risk factor for obesity, how well or poorly you sleep may influence weight gain or reduction.

Obesity worsens biological processes that contribute to weight gain, which is concerning for obese people. Obesity itself creates sleep problems, which in turn worsens biological processes that contribute to obesity. Overweight and obese individuals are trapped in a vicious cycle, but there is hope for better sleep and the health consequences that come with it.

How Does Sleep Deprivation Lead to Weight Gain?

Overeating and weight gain are encouraged by a hormonal imbalance caused by sleep deprivation. While ghrelin and leptin regulate hunger, sleep deprivation alters the production of these hormones, which causes an increase in hunger pangs. Growth hormone insufficiency and higher cortisol levels have been related to obesity as a result of sleep loss. In addition, a lack of sleep can affect your ability to properly digest food.

Sleep deprivation’s impact on weight gain extends beyond alterations in metabolism. It has been found that those who sleep less tend to eat more high-calorie items. Late-night calorie consumption raises the risk of obesity. Adults who don’t get enough sleep also receive less exercise than those who do, which could be due to the fact that sleep deprivation makes them tired and sleepy during the day.

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Childhood Obesity and Sleep

Because of the rapid growth and maturation of their bodies and minds, children require more sleep than adults. Children who are sleep-deprived are more likely to become overweight or obese. The hormonal changes that lead to weight gain in adults can also occur in youngsters who don’t get enough sleep. They may also get more tired during the day, resulting in a drop in their level of activity.

Weighing oneself at night is possible as well. Researchers found that kids who stayed up later had poorer diets, eating more low-nutrient foods and eating fewer fruits and vegetables.

Furthermore, studies show that children who are overweight and have sleep problems, such as insomnia or sleep schedule irregularities, are at greater risk of developing health problems.

How Does Being Overweight Affect Sleep?

Compared to non-obese individuals, those who are fat are more likely to experience sleep disturbances such as insomnia. As a result, even persons who sleep through the night without interruption are more likely to be tired during the day. It has been hypothesized that obesity can have a negative impact on sleep quality by altering metabolic processes and/or sleep-wake cycles. If you’re overweight, it’s possible that the physical implications of that weight can affect your sleep.

What Sleep Concerns Are Common in People Who Are Overweight?

People who are overweight or obese are more likely to suffer from various health concerns that interfere with their ability to get a good night’s sleep. Obesity-related sleep problems can be exacerbated by the presence of one or more of the following conditions:

  • Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA): OSA is a sleep disorder that results in snoring and breathing problems at night because the airway narrows or closes completely during sleep. Individuals who are obese have a seven-fold increased risk of developing OSA. Obesity increases the severity of OSA symptoms as well as one’s likelihood of developing the condition.
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD): GERD is a long-term illness characterized by reflux of stomach acid into the esophagus, resulting in symptoms such as heartburn and other discomforts. GERD and obesity go hand in hand. Disrupted sleep is a possible complication of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
  • Depression: Obesity and depression have a mutually reinforcing association. To put it another way, both obesity and depression can exacerbate or worsen each other’s symptoms. Insomnia affects up to 75% of people with depression, making it a common symptom of the illness.
  • Asthma: Inflammation of the airways is the cause of asthma. Asthma and worsening of asthma symptoms are both made more likely by obesity. Asthma nighttime symptoms are common, and they can make it difficult for patients to fall and remain asleep.
  • Osteoarthritis: If you have osteoarthritis, you have worn down cartilage in your joints. Osteoarthritis can be caused by obesity because of the added load on the joints. Pain, sadness, and disrupted sleep may all be linked to osteoarthritis in a cyclical way, and these diseases may increase each other.

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How Can You Get Better Sleep When Overweight?

The word “sleep hygiene” refers to the practice of following habits and routines that promote restful sleep. Everyone should do this, but if you’re having trouble sleeping, it’s essential. Setting a regular sleep schedule, establishing a nightly ritual, and engaging in healthy practices throughout the day are all part of good sleep hygiene. When you are overweight, you should take the following actions into consideration:

  • Exercise: The quality of a person’s sleep may be improved by exercising. There is evidence that it helps patients with OSA feel better, even if they don’t lose weight. Exercising in the fresh air helps you maintain a regular sleep-wake cycle by exposing you to natural light.
  • Find a mattress that works for you: Proper spine alignment and even contact pressure between your body and the mattress are essential features of a good mattress. Many people have different preferences when it comes to mattresses. Research has found that the sort of mattress one prefers is influenced by one’s weight.
  • Select foods carefully: Sleep hygiene includes good eating, but sleep loss might make it more difficult. Eating a well-balanced diet can help you sleep better. For example, a high-carbohydrate diet has been linked to a reduced capacity for deep sleep, according to the research. Eating between 30 to 60 minutes of bedtime has been linked to poorer sleep patterns in another study,

It might be difficult to escape the cycle of sleep deprivation and weight gain. If you’re having trouble sleeping because of your weight, you should consult a doctor or a sleep specialist. Some patients, but not all, may benefit from a weight loss program. In addition to the suggestions made above, a medical practitioner may be able to offer customized advice on the best ways to use them.

Waking Up to Sleep’s Role in Weight Control

One of the keys to good health is getting a good night’s sleep, which may also be a key to keeping a healthy weight. People who get less sleep are more likely to gain weight and become obese than those who get seven to eight hours of sleep each night, according to growing research. Lack of sleep may be a major factor in the obesity epidemic, given our society’s rising inclination to stay up late. In 1998, 35% of American adults got 8 hours of sleep each night; by 2005, that number had decreased to 26%.

If you’re concerned about your child’s weight, this article provides a quick overview of the newest research on the link between sleep and obesity in both children and adults.

Sleep and Adult Obesity

Short sleep duration has been linked to obesity in most studies that look at people over a period of time (cross-sectional studies). Although longitudinal studies can better answer issues regarding causality, in adults the findings from such studies have been less consistent than those in children’s research.

The Nurses’ Health Study, which tracked the sleep and weight patterns of 68,000 middle-aged American women for up to 16 years, is the largest and longest study of its kind. Women who slept five hours or less per night than those who slept seven hours per night had a 15% greater chance of becoming fat during the course of the trial. It was found that working a rotating night shift, an irregular schedule that mixes day and evening work with a few night shifts, disrupting circadian rhythms and impairing sleep, was linked to an increased risk of type 2 diabetes and obesity in the Nurse’s Health Study II and the Nurses’ Health Study. Diabetes and obesity were found to be more prevalent among women who worked alternating night shifts.

Other researchers in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and Europe have conducted smaller, shorter longitudinal studies on adult sleep habits and weight.

Some researchers have established a correlation between obesity and insufficient sleep, but others disagree. Interestingly, a few studies have shown that adults who sleep too much are more likely to become obese. Reverse causality, as academics term it, is most likely to blame for this. Obesity-related conditions, such as sleep apnea, obstructive lung disease, depression, or cancer, may be the cause of people’s unusually long slumbers, rather than the reverse, which is more likely.

If a pilot study is successful, it could shed light on whether a longer night’s sleep aids weight loss.

Study participants will be randomly assigned to one of two groups: those who will receive coaching on how to extend their nightly sleep by at least half an hour to an hour or the other group that will keep their present sleeping patterns. Participants’ sleep patterns and weight will be monitored for a period of three years by study researchers.

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How Does Sleep Affect Body Weight?

Chronic sleep deprivation may contribute to weight increase in a variety of ways, including by increasing the amount of food people consume or decreasing the amount of energy they expend.

Reduced levels of sleep are associated with an increase in caloric intake of

  • Increasing hunger: Hormones that regulate hunger may be affected by sleep deprivation. Young males who were sleep-deprived had higher levels of the hunger-inducing hormone ghrelin and lower levels of the satiation-inducing hormone leptin, resulting in an increase in hunger and an increased desire for high-fat and high-carbohydrate diets, according to a small study.
  • Giving people more time to eat: Because they have more time to eat when they are awake, those who sleep fewer hours per night tend to overeat. Sleep deprivation has been linked to an increased desire to eat, particularly when people are awake for longer periods of time at night and are surrounded by food.
  • Prompting people to choose less healthy diets: No consistent link has been found in observational research between sleep and eating decisions. An interesting finding from a study of Japanese employees was the higher likelihood of eating out, irregular eating patterns, and snacking among those sleeping less than six hours a night as opposed to those sleeping more than six hours.

Reduced energy expenditure could be a result of sleep deprivation

  • Decreasing physical activity: Sleep deprivation has been linked to a reduction in physical activity because of the increased fatigue it causes during the day. It’s been shown that those who don’t get enough sleep have a tendency to spend more time on the couch watching television and less time participating in organized sports. Physical activity and television viewing are not substantial enough to account for the link between sleep and weight, though.
  • Lowering body temperature: Body temperature decreases in patients who are sleep deprived have been shown in laboratory studies. As a result of the decrease, one could expect a reduction in energy expenditure. But a new study found no correlation between the amount of time spent sleeping and the amount of energy expended.

How Sleep Loss Leads to Weight Gain

When you don’t get enough sleep, your weight might vary in a variety of ways.

Changes in appetite. Your appetite is controlled by two hormones in your body. The hormone leptin alerts your body when you’ve had enough food to warrant satiety. Instead, ghrelin aids in signaling your brain that you are hungry. Circadian rhythms play a role in the production of several hormones, and testosterone is no exception.

Leptin levels fall when you don’t get enough sleep. As a result, your brain sends out signals that you’re hungry, even though you don’t need to consume any calories. At the same time, your ghrelin levels rise, making you need food. When you’re starving, it’s more likely that you’ll reach for something high in fat and calories rather than something nutritious. Reduce the amount of junk food in your home in order to prevent yourself from overeating. You’ll be more likely to reach for healthier snacks this way. If it doesn’t work, try drinking a glass of water instead. It’s possible to be hungry and thirsty at the same time. More snacking. The longer you’re awake, the more time you have to eat. This is logical. The “fourth meal,” as it’s sometimes referred to, can result from this. More frequent snacking, even if it doesn’t go that far, can lead to weight gain because of the extra calories it contains.

Ask yourself if you’re really hungry before grabbing a quick snack. If that doesn’t work, try drinking water or going for a brisk walk. Less exercise. If you don’t get enough sleep, you’ll be less motivated to work out since you’ll be too exhausted to go for a stroll or to the gym. Even though it may be difficult to get started, attempt to get up and get moving. Regular physical activity not only aids in weight loss, but it can also aid in restful sleep. Don’t exercise within a few hours of bedtime if you have trouble sleeping. Your workout may make it more difficult for you to obtain a good night’s sleep.

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Getting a Good Night’s Sleep

It’s possible that being overweight makes it more difficult to get a good night’s sleep.

Sleeping on one’s side may be more comfortable for larger persons. Gravity’s weight on your body might make it difficult to breathe while you sleep on your back. When you sleep on your side, you’re less prone to snore. If it helps, rest your head on a pillow.

You should ensure that your mattress is firm enough to provide adequate support for you. When you’re lying in your regular sleeping posture, be sure your head and spine are aligned with the pillow you choose.

Choose mattresses and bedding made of permeable, cooling materials if your body temperature rises during the night. Use a fan and set your thermostat to between 60 and 68 degrees Fahrenheit to keep your house cool.

Understanding Your Risks Based on Your Body Weight

The number of overweight and obese persons in the United States and around the world is steadily increasing as people consume more calories and do less physical activity. Obesity has been related to heart disease, diabetes, and stroke, among other health problems. It’s also possible that the degree of obesity has an effect on this.

The body mass index (BMI) is the most generally used method for comparing weight and height (BMI). It tries to figure out how much fat you have in relation to your lean mass. People can be categorized depending on their weight based on the resulting number:

  • Underweight (BMI <18.5)
  • Normal weight (BMI 18.5-24.9)
  • Overweight (BMI 25-29.9)
  • Obese (BMI 30-34.9)
  • Morbidly obese (BMI 35 and higher)

In athletes, it may overstate body fat, whereas, in older adults who have lost muscle mass, it may underestimate body fat. An online calculator can help you determine your body mass index.

Obesity-related health issues, including sleep disorders, may be linked to an individual’s level of body fat, which can be measured via a blood test. Even if you gain just a few additional pounds over your desired weight, the impact on your sleep may be minimal. However, the effects may become more pronounced if you gain weight. Obesity puts you at greater risk for a wide range of health issues.

Weight Gain Leads to Snoring and Sleep Apnea

Obesity-related sleep disorders like snoring and sleep apnea are well-documented because of the impact it has on people’s ability to breathe. The extra fat on your body functions as a form of insulation and padding. Having a huge stomach, broader face, boosted hips, or more noticeable buttocks are all signs of obesity. This is not the only place where we may not be able to see it, though. Because of the increased pressure from the outside, such as a larger neck or stomach, the airway narrows, resulting in decreased lung volume and difficulty breathing.

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Snoring

Snoring occurs as a result of this. Airflow that is too turbulent results in snoring. Imagine a river of your own breath. It’s rare to see any surface movement when the river channel is deep. A clear airway, on the other hand, produces no sound. When the flow is disrupted, though, chaos ensues. Rapids and whitewater create a ruckus on the river’s surface, causing it to break and become chaotic. Snoring is caused by a snoring airflow that is interrupted in your airway. Obstructions in the passage, such as big tonsils or adenoids, a deviated septum in the nose, a small lower jaw (known as retrognathia), or a large tongue, may increase your chances of this happening (called macroglossia). Tonsil enlargement can have a negative impact on the health of children.

Sleep Apnea

The flow of air can stop completely when the airway becomes more packed and more likely to collapse. Apnea, or pauses in breathing, will occur as a result. In the Greek language, this is a term that signifies “not breathing.” Hypopnea is the medical term for a partial blockage that is less severe. The apnea-hypopnea index may be used to summarize the events that occur throughout a person’s nightly breathing during a sleep test (AHI).

Sleep apnea has been linked to a variety of health issues for quite some time. Excessive daytime sleepiness and difficulties with focus, memory, and mood are a few of the symptoms. More significant consequences can be expected as a result as well. Heart failure, hypertension, and diabetes are all possible side effects. There is a link between sleep apnea and an increased risk of stroke and mortality. A child’s growth and development can be negatively impacted as a result of their actions.

Hypoventilation

Carbon dioxide retention problems can last all day in people who have significant breathing problems at night. When we breathe properly, most of our carbon dioxide is exhaled into the air. These people are unable to catch up during the day because their sleep has been so disrupted. Obesity hypoventilation syndrome is the medical term for this. It raises the danger of mortality and serious cardiovascular problems.

Restless Legs Linked to Obesity

Weight can have a variety of other effects on sleep, including difficulty breathing. The symptoms of restless legs syndrome include nighttime leg pain and an accompanying urge to move about to alleviate the discomfort. Restless legs syndrome can be caused by a variety of factors, including iron deficiency and pregnancy. Obesity has been linked to a higher incidence of restless legs syndrome. Perhaps dopamine is involved in this process, according to some studies. However, it isn’t clear why this association exists.

People with restless legs syndrome are often known to get out of bed and eat in the early hours of the morning. Symptoms in their legs appear to be alleviated as a result of this treatment. It’s unclear if these extra calories have any effect on weight gain or if they really exist at all.

Poor Sleep May Cause Weight Gain, Worsen Obesity

Finally, it appears that sleep deprivation is associated with weight gain. In addition to sleep apnea and restless legs syndrome causing obesity, certain sleep disorders may also cause weight gain.

In most cases, parasomnias (abnormal sleep habits) are not involved. A sleep-related eating disorder is one example of this (SRED). This is a condition in which a person feeds repeatedly and uncontrollably while they are sleeping. Unusual, high-calorie, or inedible foods may be consumed. Examples include coffee grounds and cat litter. In most cases, persons who are suffering from SRED are awoken in the morning by the discovery of missing food or a filthy kitchen, as well as the frustrating reality that they can’t manage to shed the pounds.

Sleep deprivation may be a lot more prevalent contributor to weight growth than you might think. Inadequate sleep has been linked to hormone changes that affect metabolism, according to some studies. Our body’s ability to manage the usage and storage of fat may be affected. In addition, sleep disturbances may increase the risk of insulin resistance and diabetes. As a result, weight gain can be exacerbated if you don’t get enough hours of sleep or have poor quality sleep.

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The Bottom Line: Sleep is a Promising Target for Obesity Prevention

Obesity in children and adults alike is associated with obtaining less sleep than is recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). Many studies so far have been observational, and it has to be seen whether teaching children or adults how to sleep well may lessen their risk of obesity or help them shed pounds. Clinical trials with randomization are now being conducted, and the results may be available soon.

Some scientists have expressed concern about promoting sleep as a solution to the obesity crisis too quickly due to the limitations of the research that has been done thus far. It may seem counterintuitive, but there is no risk in encouraging healthy sleep habits, such as a regular bedtime and reducing caffeine consumption late in the day. This is especially true for public health reasons. If you get enough sleep, you’ll be more attentive at school or work, have a better mood, and have a better overall quality of life. As a result, a good night’s sleep should be on the shortlist of measures to prevent obesity.

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