I had the pleasure of attending the COAST/UCOP Sleep Symposium last week entitled Sleep, Stress, & Obesity: A Weighty Issue. It was a combined presentation by UCB, UC Davis, and UCSF. There were several interesting points raised about the connection of sleep, stress, and weight, some of which I thought I might share here.
First off, some general information about sleep deficiency. Sleep deficiency and sleep disorders are associated with weight changes, mood changes including depression, diabetes and pre-diabetic changes, cardiac problems such as hypertension, and cognitive problems that can often look like early dementia. Sleep disorders such as sleep apnea (multiple periods while asleep where breathing stops or the airway becomes very narrow and oxygen levels drop) can cause psychiatric symptoms such as poor sleep, daytime sleepiness, mood changes, depression, fatigue, poor concentration, and memory problems. Up to 10% of men have sleep apnea and most are not diagnosed.
There were multiple great presentations. Below are two that were of interest to me:
One study looked at how chemical changes normally associated with feeling of hunger, satiety, and sugar cravings were altered with sleep deprivation. They were able to see actual changes in these chemicals with only a few nights of reduced sleep. Studies showed that the sleep deprived individuals would then overeat and prefer sweets and snacks accordingly.
Another presented on 900 children that had their sleep measured at 6 months, 2 years, and also had their weight and BMI (a measure of body mass index) measured during this time and at age 3. They found that children who slept less than 12 hours over the course of the day were 2 times more likely to be overweight. They also found that children whose “parents were single or divorced or who lived in homes with lower household incomes and lower maternal educational attainment were more likely to sleep less than 12 hours per day.” They also found that the “combination of low levels of sleep and high levels of television viewing appeared to be synergistic and was associated with markedly higher BMI scores…” Taveras et al “Short sleep duration in infancy and risk of childhood overweight.” Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med 2008.
So, how do you ensure good sleep? There are a lot of possibilities but consider some of the following:
1. if you snore excessively, your partner notes you hold your breath or stop breathing while asleep, you have a lot of daytime sleepiness despite sleeping, ask your doctor to check you for sleep apnea. Always rule out medical causes of sleep problems.
2. Avoid alcohol and caffeine in the evening. Both interfere with normal sleep structure and can disrupt your quality of sleep without you even realizing it.
3. Reduce your bright light exposure as the night progresses. Your body has an internal thermometer that produces chemicals that help you get sleepy when there is lack of bright light. Staring at a bright computer screen, a bright TV, or having all the lights on in the house before bed impedes this gauge. Start to dim the lights as the evening progresses and avoid bright screens right before bed.
4. Exercise! Daytime and early evening (but not too late) exercise can help with sleep tremendously. Look for a relaxing yoga evening class in your neighborhood. You’ll go to bed feeling relaxed and refreshed.
5. Keep a routine. We’re creatures of habit. The more we keep a routine the more our body will know to go to the bed and to wake up at the times we want it to. Eating, exercise, etc are all part of this routine.
6. Relax. Do some relaxation exercises before bed. Listen to a guided podcast. Do a progressive muscle relaxation. You can find many examples on itunes and the web for free these days.
7. Sleep disturbances can sometimes be a symptom of depression, anxiety, or other mood conditions. See your doctor if your sleep is not improving or you are worried that there may be something else going on.
Best dreams to you.