Eating and sleeping

January 22, 2008

In addition to all the reasons that being overweight is not good for you, there is evidence that it prevents you from sleeping well. Even worse, researchers warn of a vicious cycle of eating more when you are sleep-deprived. If more motivation were needed to make that New Year's resolution to shed those extra pounds, the prospect of not sleeping and gaining more weight should do it.

The dangers of obesity are well known and can't be emphasized enough. There's the increased risk of diabetes, hypertension and heart problems that can lead to a poor quality of life and, at worst, a reduced life span. But lack of sleep can be a contributing factor to those serious consequences.

On average, adults should get seven to eight hours of sleep each night. But modern lifestyles being what they are - and so many of us juggling work, family, social and other responsibilities - that ideal is enjoyed consistently by only about half the U.S. adult population, according to a 2005 survey. About one in six adults reported getting less than six hours of sleep a night, a 33 percent increase since 1998. An estimated 70 million Americans are affected by chronic sleep loss or sleep disorders, at an annual cost of at least $16 billion in health care expenses and $50 billion in lost productivity.

Now recent studies at the Johns Hopkins University, among other institutions, funded mostly by the National Institutes of Health, have found that people who sleep poorly are more likely to have weight problems and that obesity increases the risk of certain sleep disorders. There may also be a connection between lack of sleep and hormones that stimulate hunger. Ongoing studies are trying to determine whether improving the sleeping habits of obese patients will help them lose more weight.

Some experts in sleep disorders are encouraging individuals to include changes in sleeping patterns to the list of ailments to be discussed with doctors; they may be right to think that adding management of sleep problems to regular medical visits can make a difference in overall health care.

Despite the constant search for a magic bullet, losing weight comes down to exercise and diet, more or less. If more sleep is added to the mix, striking a better balance among all the demands on one's time is required. Ultimately, people make better health and lifestyle decisions when they feel good and have a good night's sleep.

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