Sleep Your Way to Weight Loss & Health

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Andrea Matsumura, MD, MS, FACP

Sleep has become a national health crisis. Up to a third of Americans are not getting enough sleep. We often think we can get by on less than seven hours a night, but in reality our body, and most importantly our brain, needs seven to  nine hours of sleep each night.

Getting enough sleep on a regular basis promotes health, well-being and healthy weight management. Skimping on sleep interferes with decision making, reaction time, and overall health. Chronic medical conditions such as heart failure, atrial fibrillation, depression, and diabetes are more difficult to control without enough sleep.

Studies have shown that one of the key players in the obesity epidemic is lack of sleep. We eat more and exercise less when we are chronically sleep deprived. Our hunger hormones are increased when we don’t get enough sleep, we have less impulse control and our body craves unhealthy food. One way to combat obesity is by getting more sleep.

What can you do to help yourself get enough sleep?

The first step to getting a good night’s sleep is to develop a healthy routine for preparing yourself for sleep. Getting to sleep at the same time every night and waking up at the same time every day is best for your brain and your body. A healthy sleep routine also means turning off all electronics at least one hour before bedtime, refraining from caffeinated beverages at least six hours before bed, and getting into bed when you are ready to fall asleep. Reserve your bed only for sleep and sex.

Many of us are tied to our electronic devices and we are living in a chronically sleep deprived society because of these devices. Watching TV or using electronics in bed is a setup for reducing the amount of sleep you get.

How do you know if you have a sleep disorder?

If you are waking up unrefreshed, despite getting enough sleep (seven to nine hours), you should talk with your doctor. Many people suffer from sleep disorders including obstructive sleep apnea. It is estimated that 22 million Americans suffer from sleep apnea and 80% of them are undiagnosed. If you or your partner snores, wakes up gasping for air or you see them stop breathing, these are symptoms of sleep apnea.

Insomnia is another culprit that affects sleep. An estimated one in three people will have a bout of insomnia in their lifetime. If it takes you more than 30 minutes to fall asleep or you are waking up in the middle of the night and find yourself wondering when you will fall back to sleep, you should be evaluated by a sleep medicine doctor. Insomnia is often the side effect of a precipitating factor in our life. The solution is not a sleep aid. Sleep aids are a short term fix, but in the long term, they do not work to fight insomnia.

You deserve a good night’s sleep. Your body is depending on you to give it enough sleep so you are at your best. Don’t short change yourself by denying your body what it needs. Think of sleep as nutrition for your brain. Don’t let it go hungry.