Sleep: The Missing Link in Weight Loss

Tara Parker-Pope, New York Times health columnist, wrote a great article in last week’s Times Magazine called, “The Fat Trap.” She details a poignant account of her personal struggles with obesity, and the various scientific studies that support the notion that there are a number of genetic, biochemical and environmental factors that prevent certain people from losing weight. 

But one thing that was clearly missing in her article was the importance of getting a good night’s sleep. There are a number of reasons why most modern Americans are not getting enough sleep.

A National Sleep Foundation poll in 2005 showed that Americans averaged 6.9 hours of sleep per night, which is about one hour less per night compared with 50 years ago. Furthermore, our sleep duration has dropped another 20 minutes since 2001. Invasion of technology has been blamed as one major factor, as cellphones, computers, and various media options are rampant in today’s society. The bad economy is also thought to create more insomnia and diminished total sleep times.

Not only has our sleep duration dropped, but the quality of our sleep is dropping even further. Obesity is a major risk factor for having obstructive sleep apnea. As obesity has reached epidemic proportions in the United States, it’s likely that rates of obstructive sleep apnea has increased as well. Untreated obstructive sleep apnea, by causing multiple breathing interruptions, prevents continuous, quality deep sleep. It also significantly increases your future risk of developing heart disease, heart attack, stroke and motor vehicle accidents.

A healthy diet, portion control, and regular exercise are cornerstones of most diets or weight loss programs. But without good quality sleep, your chances of losing a significant amount of weight and keeping is off is relatively low. One major reason for this is that poor sleep promotes weight gain. It’s been shown that hormonally and metabolically, one tends to either gain weight, or has difficulty losing weight, no matter how much you diet or exercise.

One great example was reported by Glamour Magazine in 2009: Seven women of varying weights were told to sleep at least 7.5 hours every night. After 10 weeks, 6 of the 7 women lost anywhere from 6 to 15 pounds, without any changes in their eating or exercise habits. The one woman that didn’t lose any weight did lose 2.5 inches off her waist, bust and hips.

This just goes to show that unless you can optimize sleep, losing weight through dieting and/or exercise won’t work as well, or last.

If you’re currently dieting, have you incorporated an optimal sleep program into your weight loss regimen?

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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