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Published on January 09, 2013

Sleep Disorders Related to Obesity

By Abby Goeken, RPSGT, EEGT
Coordinator of Avera Sacred Heart Sleep Diagnostic Lab

Now that the New Year has rolled around, countless people have made a New Year’s resolution to get additional sleep each evening or to lose some extra weight for 2013.  Does this sound familiar to you?  If so, this article’s for you.

The statistics are alarming: about 65 percent of Americans are now overweight or obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDCP), and 77 percent of older adults who are obese report some kind of sleep problem.  The CDC also reports, “That 1 in 3 American children born in 2000 will develop diabetes, and children under 10 years of age are already developing type 2 diabetes, which is primarily seen in adults—usually not until past the age of 40.”  As a nation, we’re also getting less sleep than we used to.  Add all of those features together, and we have a perfect model for obesity.

An estimated 18 million Americans have sleep apnea, which is often associated with people who are overweight.  As a person gains weight, especially in the trunk and neck area, the risk of sleep-disordered breathing, he/she may not be as motivated to exercise or to diet.  Poor sleep and sleep deprivation may increase appetite.  Because the psychological manifestations of fatigue, sleep and hunger are similar, as adults, we sometimes confuse them—we tend to eat when we’re actually sleepy, because we think fatigue is a sign of hunger.  So, when you think those fries may help you get energized, start thinking more sleep instead.

Sometimes the best way to treat obesity can be to treat an underlying sleep problem.  Successful treatment of sleep apnea, usually with Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP), may reduce sleepiness and then motivate patients to effectively lose weight, which will in turn help the obesity and the sleep apnea.

Here are some helpful tips to lose weight and also improve your sleep according to the National Sleep Foundation:

  • Make healthy choices for your meals.  Avoid fast foods.  Eat more fish, fruits and vegetables; avoid foods high in carbohydrates or fats.
  • Start getting consistent exercise.  This will improve the quality of your sleep.  Most experts, however, say to avoid exercising less than three hours before bedtime, because exercise is alerting and can make it harder to fall asleep.
  • Examine your sleep schedule.  Be sure you are getting at least seven to eight hours of sleep each night.

Do you wake up feeling refreshed or lethargic? Do you wake up frequently during the night? Are you underweight, overweight, or just right?  Do you have difficulty falling asleep or wake up too early?  Have you been told you snore loudly or stop breathing or gasp for breath while asleep?  Also, have you experienced unpleasant sensations in your legs while trying to sleep or tired most days?  These are symptoms of potentially serious sleep problems and disorders.

If you’re having trouble sleeping or you notice a loved one who is having problems sleeping, talk to your health care provider.  You may also stop by or call the Avera Sacred Heart Sleep Disorders Laboratory at 605-668-8773 for more information.

Information provided by the National Sleep Foundation