The Connection Between Sleep and Weight

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Sleep and weight may be connected in some surprising ways. Not only can how much you weigh affect the quality of your sleep, new research suggests how much you sleep can affect your weight.

Obesity is a known risk factor for obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), a potentially serious sleep disorder in which breathing temporarily stops and starts during sleep. Common signs and symptoms of OSA include:

  • Loud snoring
  • Excessive daytime sleepiness or difficulty concentrating during the day
  • Abrupt awakenings during the night accompanied by gasping or choking
  • Episodes of breathing cessation during sleep witnessed by another person

About half of people with obstructive sleep apnea are overweight. Excess fat surrounding the upper airway, as indicated by a large neck size, may contribute to the breathing obstruction associated with the sleep disorder.

Recent studies also suggest getting too little sleep may affect your weight. Studies have shown that people who sleep an average of less than 5 to 6 hours per night are more likely to gain weight than people who get the recommended 7 to 9 hours of sleep.

Another study showed men who were sleep deprived were more likely to prefer high-calorie foods.

One explanation might be that sleep duration affects hormones regulating hunger — ghrelin and leptin — and stimulates the appetite. Reduced sleep may also affect the hormone cortisol and nervous system activity, both of which can influence weight.

Another contributing factor might be that lack of sleep leads to fatigue and results in less physical activity.

Finally, staying up at night may lead to disinhibited eating, especially of higher calorie foods.

It all adds up to new reasons to get a good night's sleep if you're trying to lose weight or maintain a healthy weight. And consider losing weight if you're overweight and have trouble sleeping or have been diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea.

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