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How Is Sleep, or Lack Thereof, Affecting Your Weight ?

Sleep Facts
The Role of Sleep in Weight Control:

Few people realize how important sleep is in a weight control program. Very often, it's a make-or-break factor, and by this I mean that insufficient sleep will preclude (point-blank) effective weight loss.

There are 2 reasons why sleep has such a paramount role in weight control:

  1. It reduces the time interval when calories can be ingested: Since we don't eat in our sleep (thankfully), extending our sleep time by 1-2 hours a day means we are proportionally cutting our chances of ingesting calories during that time. This may sound childishly simple, but believe me: In the long run, these "missed calories" add up and the effects are tremendous.

  2. Proper sleep significantly decreases our appetite during waking hours: Since our body recuperates and regenerates during sleep, it will need less fuel (food during the day) to perform its functions. Moreover, sleep relaxes the body - and relaxation is crucial for weight control. Increased stress levels cause the body to secrete high amounts of the hormone cortisol, which not only increases appetite, but also promotes the formation and deposition of fat in our body - especially around the midsection and on the face and neck. Proper sleep reduces stress and interrupts this mechanism. These are scientifically proven sleep facts which you must be aware of in order to succeed.

This being said, the question presents itself: "What is proper sleep?"
In this regard, both the sleep time and sleep quality are important. We will proceed to take a closer look at each one of these factors.

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Sleep Facts
Optimal Sleep Time:

The optimal sleep time varies for each individual. Some people may need as little as 5 hours per day, whereas others may need as much as 10. The average is around 7-8 hours per day for adults, 8-9 hours for teenagers, and 9-10 hours for children.

It is simply amazing how many people are afflicted by chronic sleep deprivation in our day and age. What I mean by chronic sleep deprivation is that the sleep deficit is ongoing, usually over long periods of time (months to years). From my own experience, working in the medical field where much of the work-force is sleep deprived (medical residents, nurses working night-shifts, doctors having to cover a night-call every few days, etc), I have noted the following: The vast majority of people getting less than 7 hours of sleep per night on an ongoing basis show symptoms of sleep deprivation: Irritability, attention deficit, increased stress levels, and quite often increased food intake and weight gain.

Therefore, I would recommend that anyone get at least 7 hours of quality sleep per night. Of course, some people may need more than that, and it's up to you to determine your optimal sleep time. After doing so, you need to muster the motivation to stick with your sleep schedule, which oftentimes is difficult to do. To make things worse, many people develop sleep disorders, and waste precious sleep-time lying awake in bed.

Sleep Facts
Sleep Quality:

Sleep quality (sometimes referred to as "sleep hygiene") defines the overall degree of comfort one experiences during sleep. In order for sleep to be recuperative and rejuvenating, proper sleep hygiene is paramount. To give just an example: 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep will do wonders for the organism, whereas 8 hours of sleep with several interruptions will most likely leave you feeling exhausted. (This is an important sleep fact which many people tend to overlook.)

Below are several ways you can improve sleep quality. You might be surprised how much easier it becomes to fall asleep and stay asleep if you follow these few simple measures:

  1. Make sure your bed (mattress) is comfortable and provides the right support for your body. If you toss and turn during the night, or wake up with back pain, neck pain, or other body aches, consider the possibility you may need a new mattress. In this case, consider the following options:
    • A quality innerspring mattress, such as Simmons Beauty Rest.
    • An air bed of adjustable firmness, such as the Sleep Number Bed.
    • A memory foam mattress, such as Tempur-Pedic.
    • A bed with adjustable positions, such as the Craftmatic (offers foam or latex mattresses).

  2. A quiet, dark environment is very important for restorative sleep. Sleeping amidst noise, which includes background noise from a TV, radio, etc, will result in agitated, superficial, non-restorative sleep. Similarly, sleeping with a nightlight may decrease sleep quality. So make sure your bedroom is properly darkened and insulated from noise.

  3. A comfortable temperature (preferably cooler rather than warmer), is important for good sleep quality. At the same time, make sure that your extremities are warm and dry. Cold, clammy feet can make it difficult to fall asleep. If you suffer from this condition, try a pair microwavable slippers (usually available at Walgreen's): You simply stick them in the microwave for 1-2 minutes, then wear them to bed.

  4. If stress and anxiety are keeping you up, try a short unwinding exercise prior to bedtime (10-20 minutes of yoga, Pilates, or simply a stretch routine). Eliminating the tension in your muscles and ligaments can be very helpful. If choosing a videotape workout, turn the volume down as much as possible, and make sure the soundtrack is soothing and relaxing.

  5. Don't eat at least 1 hour prior to bedtime. (This includes any calorie-containing drinks.) The body's effort to digest food may adversely affect your quality of sleep.

  6. For at least 2-3 hours prior to bedtime, do not drink coffee or other caffeine-containing drinks (such as cola, black tea, energy drinks, etc). Caffeine tends to stimulate metabolism, increase heart rate and blood pressure, and prevent you from falling asleep.

  7. For at least 2-3 hours prior to bedtime, do not take cold-medicines or decongestants containing pseudo-ephedrine or phenylephrine (e.g., Sudafed, Actifed, etc). The same goes for nasal drops containing pseudoephedrine or phenylephrine. All these agents are stimulants of the nervous system and tend to keep you awake.

  8. To address nasal congestion or cold symptoms that may keep you awake at night, you may try an OTC anti-inflammatory at bedtime (e.g., Advil, Aleve, etc). These products also come in a 'PM formulation', which includes a mild sleep aid. (Note: Please clear any medication you consider taking with your treating physician.)

  9. If you snore heavily or for extended periods of time, your quality of sleep will be impaired. There are several things you can try to control snoring: Switch to a flatter pillow or if tolerated eliminate the pillow altogether, try sleeping on your side rather than your back, and/or try the 'Breath-Right nasal strips' available over the counter. If this has no effect and you continue to experience significant snoring, consider the possibility you may suffer from sleep apnea - a condition caused by intermittent closure of the airway during sleep, mainly due to redundant tissues in the inside of the throat. Sleep apnea markedly detracts from the quality of sleep: First and foremost, it results in oxygen deprivation during sleep, which in turn leads to elevated blood pressure, increased heart rate, and increased stress levels. Sleep apnea is fairly common in obese people. Oftentimes, weight loss markedly improves the symptoms of sleep apnea.
    If you suspect you may suffer from sleep apnea, talk to your physician about workup and treatment options. (The workup usually involves undergoing a sleep study, i.e. sleeping in a controlled environment where several of your body functions are being monitored. Treatment usually involves wearing a CPAP oxygen mask during sleep.)

  10. Finally, if all the above-mentioned measures fail and you still experience agitated sleep or insomnia, it's time to consider a sleep aid. Sleeping with medication is preferable to not sleeping at all, so it's advisable to educate yourself about your options. Of course, sleep aids should be taken as a measure of last resort, for limited periods of time, and in moderation (i.e., not exceeding the recommendations of the manufacturer).

    • Over-the-counter sleep aids, if taken as recommended, are usually non-addictive. Of course, like all sleep aids, they can cause daytime drowsiness, decreased attention span, difficulty concentrating or performing certain tasks, etc.
      Follow the link above to find out more about over-the-counter (OTC) sleep aids, including available options, mechanism and duration of action, side effects, etc.

    • Prescription sleep medications, as opposed to over-the-counter drugs, do have addictive potential, sometimes even when taken at the recommended doses.
      • The most commonly used prescribed drugs in this category are benzodiazepines, which include agents such as Valium (Diazepam), Restoril (Temazepam), Xanax (Alprazolam), etc.
      • In recent years, a different group of sleep medications - non-benzodiazepines - has emerged, and is currently capturing a growing market share. Overall, this group is considered to have lesser addictive potential, and some non-benzodiazepine agents are even approved for long-term usage.
        Here are some of the newer and more popular medications in this group:
        • Zolpidem (marketed under the brand names Ambien and Ambien CR): This is a fast-acting non-benzodiazepine agent which binds to the same brain receptors as benzodiazepines (GABA receptors), inhibiting the function of the central nervous system. Read more...
        • Lunesta (Eszopiclone): Contrary to most other sleep aids, Lunesta is approved by the FDA for long-term use in the treatment of insomnia. Read more...
        • Rozerem (Ramelteon): This is an entirely new type of sleep agent which acts on the melatonin receptors in the brain, inhibiting central nervous system activity. It is considered the safest prescription sleep agent on the market at this time (and perhaps the funniest, too... yes, it's the TV promotional featuring Abe Lincoln and the beaver!) Read more...

    • To find out more about prescription sleep medication, including a discussion of several benzodiazepine agents, follow the link below:

Sleep Facts
The Worst Thing for Sleep:

Let's consider this question: What's the biggest offender when it comes to sleep?
If I had to pinpoint a single factor that's more harmful than anything else, my answer would be: INTERRUPTIONS.

Repeated sleep interruptions compromise the natural sleep cycle and destroy sleep quality. A heavily interrupted sleep is very close to getting no sleep at all. Therefore, whatever it takes, try to get at least a few hours of uninterrupted sleep each night.


We hope the sleep facts presented on this page prove helpful and make your weight loss efforts (and your life in general) a bit easier.

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