Obesity May Be Caused by Sleep Disorders

ObesityThe relation between the two may seem to be farfetched, but obesity may be caused by having sleep disorders. A large group of people in the U.S. suffer from obesity and sleep disorders, but not many people know that sleep deprivation may cause weight gain. In fact, experts say that the relation between the two seems to be much stronger than was previously discovered.

In a study, researchers followed 60,000 women for 16 years. The women were asked about their weight, diet, sleep habits and other aspects of their lifestyle. All women had a healthy weight and experienced  good sleep at the beginning of the study, but 16 years later, weight gain had developed on women who experienced sleep deprivation. In addition, their risk of becoming obese had increased by 30 percent.

According to Susan Zafarlotfi, Ph.D., it is a vicious cycle that people are in. When sleep deprived, one feels tired and will reach out to unhealthy comfort foods much quicker than people who experience a good night sleep. The immediate result is that a bag of potato chips gives energy and fights off the sleepiness, but the long-term result of choosing unhealthy foods will sabotage the waistline. Zafarlotfi describes sleep deprivation as a credit card debt, where accumulating credit card debt may cause high interest rates or even an account shutdown and accumulating sleep deprivation will eventually cause the body to crash and shut down. But how exactly can obesity be caused by sleep disorders?

Experts state there are two crucial hormones in the process of gaining weight due to sleep deprivation. The level of ghrelin, the hormone that tells the body to eat, increases when the body suffers from sleep deprivation and leptin, the hormone that tells the body to stop eating, reduces when one is sleep deprived.

Michael Breus, Ph.D., says that a lack of sleep also causes the metabolism to not function properly and that unhealthy food choices due to sleepiness make it even worse than it already is. He agrees with Zafarlotfi, stating obesity and sleep disorders are a vicious cycle.

To create healthy sleeping habits, Breus advises sleep hygiene. His advice to the sleep deprived is to not drink caffeine after 2 p.m., as this will still be in the body by bedtime. In addition, Breus encourages people to keep exercising, even when experiencing sleepiness, as this will improve the metabolism and will tire the body even more to go to sleep; however, exercising right before bedtime may cause more harm than good and should therefore be done as early in the day as possible. Breus also warns people to watch the consumption of food in the evening. He suggests leaving out any big meals and foods with high levels of fat and salt before bedtime and to eat healthy snacks instead. The bedroom is also an important aspect of sleep hygiene, according to Breus, and people suffering from sleep disorders should keep the bedroom dark, clean and cool.

In the U.S., obesity continues to be a problem and with over 60 percent of American adults suffering from overweight or obesity, experts are now investigating if this may be primarily caused by sleep disorders.

By Diana Herst

Harvard School of Public Health

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