Sleep and Obesity


We all know that a poor diet and a sedentary lifestyle are big contributors to America’s obesity epidemic. However, there is one contributing factor that is not as widely recognized: Not getting enough sleep.

Skyrocketing Obesity  

A US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health article pointed out that numerous studies undertaken across the world have determined cases of obesity have skyrocketed over the past 20 years, to the point where in 2008, it was found that 1 in 10 adults were obese. The obesity epidemic was caused in part by the proliferation of sugar-packed sodas and carbohydrate-heavy snacks. Additionally, the rise of the Internet as a cultural and economic force has contributed to adults and children spending more time online and less engaging in aerobic activities. However, a lack of quality sleep also plays a part in the obesity epidemic. When we are sleep deprived, our endocrine system and metabolic functions take a major hit. Our bodies don’t break down glucose properly and cortisol, a stress hormone, begins to build up and collect masses of fat. And with our metabolic system not functioning properly, we feel hungry all the time and begin overeating.

The Importance of Getting Enough Sleep

With our current always on, always connected work culture and a vast array of media available to us via the Internet, there are many reasons we are not getting the amount of sleep we need. However, subsisting on short sleep, which is getting about six hours of sleep a night, can have major health consequences. Our immune systems get weaker, our energy levels plummet, and our ability to concentrate becomes nonexistent. Over time, a lack of sleep can also can impair our memory and contribute to the development of mental illnesses such as depression. As such, it is imperative that we all try to get at least eight hours of uninterrupted sleep per night.

Sleep Apnea and Obesity

Getting quality sleep means more than just getting eight hours a night. It also means getting sleep that is deep and undisturbed. Obstructive sleep apnea, a condition that causes sufferers to repeatedly stop and start breathing over the course of the night, affects around 24 percent of men and 9 percent of women living in the U.S. In addition to putting sufferers at risk of oxygen deprivation related death, sleep apnea also causes the afflicted to wake up repeatedly during the course of the night, greatly reducing the overall quality of their sleep. And since being severely overweight greatly increases the chances of developing sleep apnea, a vicious circle of sleep loss and weight gain can entrap the afflicted.

Bedtime Don’ts

While it is generally understood that consuming excess quantities of caffeine can negatively affect our ability to sleep, other foods play a part in giving us restless nights, too. Eating burgers and French fries high in saturated fat have been proven to decrease the overall quality of our sleep. If your stomach starts grumbling around bedtime, trying drinking a nice warm glass of milk and eating a piece of cheese. A tryptophan-rich snack will put you to sleep faster than a heavy meal. And alcohol is known to disrupt the alpha waves present in the deepest part of the sleep cycle, so skip the nightcap. It’s also been shown that using smartphones in bed causes our brains to believe it’s time to wake up, so it’s probably a good idea to fall asleep reading a good book, not your e-mail.

Sleep Longer, Live Longer

The extensive demands of work and the number of distractions available to us make it even more important to get a good night’s sleep. But, that TV show you want to binge watch and that video game you can’t wait to play will be there on the weekend. By making your sleep a priority, you’ll not only wake up feeling more refreshed and engaged, but you’ll also have more energy, a less ravenous appetite, and a stronger metabolism. Given that obese people are at a much greater risk of developing life-shortening conditions like heart disease, high blood pressure, strokes, dementia, diabetes and cancer, there’s simply no upside to not getting enough sleep.