Preventing Obesity: Get a Good Night's Sleep

That age-old advice to get a good night’s sleep turns out to have more to it in terms of health benefits than ever imagined.

Woman sleeping in bed next to her cell phone
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In addition to preventing heart disease, stroke, depression, and other disorders, getting an adequate amount of high-quality sleep every night can prevent weight gain and obesity. What is the right amount? Most studies have shown that seven to nine hours of uninterrupted sleep per night are required to reap the health benefits of good sleep, including those related to preventing obesity.

What happens when we sleep? The body gets a chance to repair and restore itself. If it does not have enough time to do this over the long-term (chronically), then stress hormones and other inflammatory factors are released, as the body begins to react as if it were under chronic stress (which, without enough sleep, it is). One of the main players in terms of stress hormones is cortisol, which is released in response to chronic stress.

Among many other of its influences on the body, cortisol causes glucose (sugar) to be released into the bloodstream so that it is more readily available to feed the brain. As an evolutionary response to chronic stress, this probably worked quite well, enabling a person under stress to respond with more brain power.

However, in today’s world, an unwanted side effect of cortisol’s actions is the tendency for weight gain (makes sense that our ancestors would need to store or hold onto weight if they were truly under stress from a harsh environment). That weight gain, over time, can translate into obesity.

Indeed, studies have shown that lack of adequate sleep can result in overeating. And for those who are trying to lose weight, getting enough sleep (again, at least seven hours per night) increases the chance of success with weight loss.

According to Braunwald’s Heart Disease, time spent sleeping can make up as much as a third of our lifetime! This gives an idea of just how important sleep is for our bodies.

How can you be sure to get an adequate amount of sleep? First, you must make it a priority in your daily schedule. Secondly, good sleep hygiene is very important, especially if you suffer from insomnia.

Sleep Hygiene

According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, sleep can be improved in many cases of chronic insomnia by practicing good sleep habits, or sleep hygiene. Daily routines play a major role in how much good-quality sleep we get, so paying attention to these routines in the form of sleep hygiene is important.

Some examples of good sleep hygiene include: avoiding caffeine and alcohol prior to bedtime; preparing a sleep environment that minimizes light exposure and minimizing light exposure in the hours leading up to bedtime; going to sleep at the same time every night; and exercising regularly but not just before going to bed.

If you are practicing good sleep hygiene consistently and still suffer from chronic insomnia, it is important to check with your doctor regarding your situation, as other conditions can affect the amount and quality of your sleep, and multiple treatment options exist, depending on the underlying cause(s).

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