The link between obesity and sleep disorders explained

I’m wondering how many of you reading this article read the headline and found that it touched a nerve – maybe you’re struggling with your weight, or maybe you’ve been feeling like your sleep is less and less satisfying , no matter how early you go to bed.

Maybe you wake up feeling groggy, or maybe you notice that your weight issues just seem to get worse and worse. Maybe you’ve noticed all of these things.

Have you ever asked yourself though, whether there might be an underlying reason for all of this? Have you considered whether your weight is causing sleep issues, or vice versa?

Because that’s basically what’s happening with a growing number of people and it will only get worse over time. 

What the science is showing us

Two issues that affect a massive number of Australians are the various forms of sleeplessness known collectively as insomnia, and obesity.

You may or may not be surprised to learn that there is significant scientific evidence linking the two issues and the evidence suggests that they feed off each other.

What I mean by this is that insomnia often results in eating disorders and obesity, while obesity often results in an inability to get to sleep or stay asleep. It’s a horrible cycle and it needs to be more widely recognised and treated before it gets any worse. It seems that the worse one issue gets, the more it impacts the other.

It wouldn’t be pushing the boat out too far to say that the problems have reached epidemic levels. Western societies are getting fatter, having less (and worse quality) sleep and feeling more and more tired. And it isn’t just a strain on the waistline – obesity costs Australia a lot of money.

One study suggests that it cost the country $8.6 billion in 2011/2012, and this figure will naturally rise as our diets become worse, we exercise less and devote more of our ‘down time’ to scrolling through social media on our phones and tablets.

It’s the same for insomnia. Actually, it’s much, much worse. Deloitte have estimated that sleep issues cost Australia a staggering $66.3 billion during the 2016/2017 financial year! When you stop and think about it, that’s an incredible figure and it’s more than eight times as expensive as obesity.
These dual issues compound each other and certainly cause other issues too, but these are probably two of the most vital to your health and happiness.

Researchers at Uppsala University in Sweden found that, in a study on the effect of the loss of a single night’s sleep on metabolism, there was a significant link between the two, as the loss of sleep impairs the metabolism. They also found, unsurprisingly, that the impairment of the metabolism led to weight gain and type 2 diabetes. Diabetes can become a very serious issue in its own right, so it’s scary that so little effort is being done to resolve the link between obesity and sleep disorders.

Another study by researchers at universities in Virginia and Indiana found that there was a definite link between obesity and sleep disorders. The interesting thing about this study was that it was unclear whether the obesity was causing the sleep disorders or the other way around. What this seems to suggest is that the two issues are inextricably linked.

The good news about insomnia is that there are plenty of ways to reduce (or eliminate) the symptoms and certain types of people seem to suffer from it, which means we can figure out how to help resolve the issue.

Who generally suffers from insomnia? 

Some common patterns that seem to indicate why we suffer from insomnia leads us to understand who tends to suffer from it. These include:

  • People who do shift work;
  • Those who do very little or no exercise;
  • Substance abusers (this includes people who drink too much coffee or caffeine-heavy drinks);
  • People with health problems such as diabetes and heart conditions;
  • The elderly;
  • People with mental health conditions.

You might have noticed above that people with diabetes are considered at a high risk of developing sleep disorders. This is interesting when you consider the Uppsala study’s findings that a lack of sleep can lead to diabetes.

Statistical evidence of who suffers from insomnia suggests people with diabetes (who often struggle with their weight too) can develop insomnia, while insomnia can have the reverse effect.

What this all means is that the evidence is mounting up that getting on top of your sleeping issues is vital for ensuring that you reach your peak physical health.

How can I cure my sleep issues?

How can I cure insomnia?

​​If you’re reading this article, I assume there’s a good chance you suffer from some form of sleep disorder on at least a semi-regular basis. If that’s the case, there are plenty of things you can do to fix or resolve the issue(s).

Firstly, it’s important to commit to a ‘sleep hygiene’ program, just like you might commit to a diet or exercise plan. This just means that you need to incorporate some things in your daily (and especially pre-bedtime) routine to ensure that you have the best sleep possible. Some of the things you should ensure you do are:

  • Only use your bedroom for sleeping and sex – otherwise your brain will start to associate your bedroom with other activities that will keep your brain running at a million miles per hour;
  • Try not to use screens for at least 30 minutes (ideally 60 minutes) before bed. This means no computers, tablets, mobiles and even TV if possible;
  • Make sure that you have allowed your body to cool down before bedtime. A cool (not necessarily icy cold) shower before bed will help to lower your body temperature and promote melatonin production (the most important chemical in inducing sleep);
  • Ensure that your curtains block out as much light as possible;
  • Exercise daily. Any exercise you do should help your sleep, so try to at least do something every day;
  • Avoid caffeine from the afternoon onwards;
  • Try to go to sleep (and even more importantly) get up at around the same time every day.

These are just the of the iceberg and there is so much you can do to improve your sleeping. Often, just devoting some time to sorting out and implementing a specific plan can drastically improve your sleep.

For my next blog post, I’m going to expand on ways you can improve your sleep and explain in more depth how the science works for each of these tools and techniques. 

For now though, any improvements you can make to your sleep hygiene should see you have a more restful and replenishing night’s sleep. The first step is just to implement one or more of these improvements.

If you’d like to learn more or have any questions about a particular sleep issue you’ve been experiencing, please feel free to get in touch.

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