Business of Well-being

Sleep and Weight, It's a Symbiotic Relationship

When we're preoccupied with juggling work, family and personal lives, sleep is often one of the first things that's neglected. As those commitments increase and our free time seems to wane all too quickly, few of us remember to prioritize getting more zzz's. Yet it's a very important aspect of our overall health, including the achievement of our weight goals. Just as sleep can have a major effect on mental function and energy levels, lack of it can have a big impact on your waistline.

Not getting the necessary amount of uninterrupted sleep throws off your hormone balance, and you tend to eat more the next day. Plus, it's all too easy to rely on sweets and high carbohydrates to stay awake, or just more calorie consumption in general during those extra waking hours. According to WebMD, researchers have found that when dieters cut back on sleep over a 14-day period, the amount of weight they lost from fat decreased by 55%, even though their calories stayed equal.

They felt hungrier and less satisfied after meals, with lower energy levels. Sleep deprivation makes you "metabolically groggy." Within just four days of insufficient sleep, your body's ability to process insulin, a hormone needed to change sugar, starches and other food into energy, goes awry. When your body doesn't respond properly to insulin, it has trouble processing fats from your bloodstream and ends up storing them as body fat.

In other words, getting too little sleep can contribute to weight gain by hampering your metabolism. Managing weight, in turn, can have a positive impact on the quality of your sleep. According to the National Sleep Foundation, an estimated 18 million Americans have sleep apnea, which is often associated with people who are overweight.

The foundation cites sleep specialists from New York Weill Cornell Medical Center who noted that "As the person gains weight, especially in the trunk and neck area, the risk of sleep-disordered breathing increases due to compromised respiratory function. If a person is overweight and suffering from sleep-disordered breathing, he/she may not be as motivated to exercise or to diet. When apnea leads to daytime sleepiness, it may be that much harder to begin or sustain an exercise program."

But the good news is that there are lot of things you can do to help fall asleep and experience a productive sleep cycle:

  • Turn off computers and televisions at least an hour before you plan on going to bed, if possible. The blue light from the screen makes it more difficult, physiologically, for you to fall asleep. You may think the television show or extra time spent responding to emails will help you to doze off, but it actually suppresses your body's production of melatonin. Grab a book instead!

  • Reduce your caffeine as early in the day as possible. Start by cutting out one cup per day, gradually, or switch to green or herbal tea in the afternoon.
  • Set a regular bedtime and try to stick to it most days of the week. You'll have less trouble falling asleep as your body adjusts to a routine. Sleep experts say most of us are healthiest with seven hours of sleep per night, but some people will feel much better with more.
  • Avoid eating a large meal less than 2-3 hours before bedtime. Your digestive system will be busy breaking down your meal, making it harder to attain more productive sleep hours. Don't drink alcohol either, as it too can disrupt your sleep cycle.
  • Keep a journal next to your bed, where you can jot down the unfinished tasks and ideas you would like to accomplish the next day if you need to clear a racing mind or if you wake up with some great thoughts in the middle of the night.
  • If you use an activity tracker, monitor your sleep throughout the week. Compare your pre-bedtime behaviors on days that you have quality sleep with days that you're tossing and turning to recognize how things such as exercise, alcohol, and stress affect your sleep quality.

Give these tips a shot, and you'll be on your way to a slimmer waistline and a well-rested lifestyle with all the other benefits that can bring.

Promoting Healthy Sleep at the Workplace

Ensuring your employees get proper sleep should be an integral part of any employee wellness program. Proper sleep can improve productivity, reduce presenteeism and improve the overall well-being of your employees. Promoting sleep education and resources as part of a comprehensive employee wellness program will ensure your employees have the tools they need to improve and maintain healthy sleep habits. It's a win-win approach for everyone.

About the Author

Danielle Keenan provides consulting to Keenan clients to design, implement and evaluate best-practice population health management programs. She provides her expertise in developing engagement strategies and programs to address lifestyle risk factors and improve management of chronic conditions to minimize avoidable health care utilization.

She holds a B.A. degree in Psychology from California State University - Long Beach and an M.P.H. degree in Public Health from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). Additionally, she has earned the WELCOA Worksite Wellness Certification, is a continuing WELCOA Faculty Member, and was recognized as one of WELCOA's Top 50 Health Promotion Professionals.

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