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Too Much Light at Night Linked to Obesity

Have you been steadily gaining weight despite the lack of changes to your eating habits or activity levels? Medical disorders and aging aside, exposure to excessive light at night may be the cause of your weight gain.

Recent findings in the US, UK, and Japan suggest that there may be a link between light at night (LAN) and obesity. Clinical studies with wide cross-sections of individuals revealed that high LAN exposure significantly corresponded with greater body mass index. Although there isn’t enough evidence to prove LAN is a direct cause of weight gain, there is enough to warrant further studies. Scientists plan to explore the following theories:

  1. Excessive exposure to artificial light from computers, televisions, cell phones, and other sources may interfere with your body’s internal clock and throw off your circadian rhythms. Since circadian rhythms affects hormones related to hunger and satiety, disruption could lead to unwanted weight gain.
  2. Too much LAN is thought to have a negative impact on melatonin production, which in turn could inhibit proper metabolism function. When metabolic processes are slowed, disturbed, or otherwise impeded, weight gain soon follows.

While there is no conclusive scientific evidence that fully supports the idea that LAN and BMI are causally linked, it wouldn’t hurt to sleep with little to no light in the room!

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The Great Weight of Sleep Apnea and Obesity

What’s weight got to do with Sleep Apnea? A great deal: as it turns out, a high percentage of Sleep Apnea sufferers also are obese. On their own, sleep apnea and obesity are both serious health conditions plaguing people today. Neither is immune to age, race, ethnicity or gender. And both are linked to many of the same health threatening conditions. Maintaining or losing weight can be a motivator for numerous reasons and those with sleep apnea should be aware of the potential benefits.

“35 percent of Americans are obese” according to the Centers for Disease Control. To be considered obese, a person must have an excessive amount of weight that can have an adverse or negative effect on ones health. BMI isn’t the best way to gauge obesity so it’s worthwhile paying a visit to your doctor to get a good assessment of whether or not you are overweight. Those negative effects can include sleep apnea as well as, hypertension, heart attack, stroke and diabetes to name a few. Sleep apnea is also linked to all of these conditions so if you have both you are putting yourself in the cross-hairs of many serious ailments.

When a person has Sleep Apnea, the airway is vulnerable in the first place, and if additional weight, such as the increasing neck size of an obese or, overweight person is placed on that airway, it can add to the chances of the apnea episodes becoming more severe. With more weight on the airway, it takes more effort from the body to open the airway after an apnea event. Other interesting correlations between sleep and obesity are highlighted in a particular study. According the National Sleep Foundation, “A 1999 study by scientists at the University of Chicago found that building up a sleep debt over a matter of days can impair metabolism and disrupt hormone levels. After restricting 11 healthy young adults to four hours’ sleep for six nights, researchers found their ability to process glucose (sugar) in the blood had declined—in some cases to the level of diabetics.” Diabetes and Obesity are well known to go hand in hand so, the relationship between the three is obvious.

Which is Better for Sleep Apnea and Obesity: Weight Control or Diabetes Education?

Maintaining ones weight is important for obvious reasons but, another motivator would be that when reducing excess weight, the severity of sleep apnea can be positively affected. Sleep Journal posted a study called Long-Term Effect of Weight Loss on Obstructive Sleep Apnea Severity in Patients with Type 2 Diabetes. The conclusion should give hope to anyone battling all three health issues:

Among obese adults with type 2 diabetes and OSA, intensive lifestyle intervention produced greater reductions in weight and apnea-hypopnea index over a 4 year period than did diabetes support and education. Beneficial effects of intensive lifestyle intervention on apneahypopnea index at 1 year persisted at 4 years, despite an almost 50% weight regain. Effect of intensive lifestyle intervention on apnea-hypopnea index was largely, but not entirely, due to weight loss.

Through guidance by your healthcare provider, it is entirely possible that weight loss could indeed, reduce the amount of pressurized air one would need compared to their current level. That said, each person is different and this would be determined by your sleep physician or during a sleep study.

Obesity affects more than one third of Americans today, and is considered a true epidemic. So while sleep apnea and obesity are closely associated with one another, the good news is that there are many therapies available, such as CPAP, that can have a positive affect on both. The benefit of treating your sleep apnea is that once you begin to get restful, restorative sleep you will potentially have more energy to undertake an exercise routine to help you lose weight. Losing those extra pounds, in turn, can help to lessen the severity of your sleep apnea.

About the Author:

Katy Norton resides in Oregon and works as a Supervisor over the Sleep Disorders Lab at St. Anthony Hospital. She has her Bachelors of Science degree in Community Health from Portland State University and is registered by the BRPT as an RPSGT, and as an RST by the ABSM. She is currently pursing her Masters of Public Health degree as well.

Katy has been working in the sleep field for 9 years and loves what she does, especially educating patients and the public about sleep medicine.

City of Sleep does not endorse nor warrant the content of the article(s) published on its website, and expressly rejects liability for any losses association with publication or re-publication of articles. Every effort to ensure original content with accurate citations, references, and credits, to original authors, has been made.

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Sleep and Weight Loss: Sleep, Shed Belly Fat, Sleep Better

Insomnia and obesity are interrelated, according to many medical researches. The latest research finding about this connection was presented by researchers from the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine at a American Heart Association Scientific Session held in Los Angeles in November 2012.

Sleep and Weight Loss

Essentially, this new study showed that losing weight, whether solely through dieting or combining it with exercise, will not only result in shedding extra fat; it can also be expected to result in better sleep. Seventy-seven subjects with either pre-diabetes or type 2 diabetes were covered in this recent study which was conducted within a six-month time-frame. It utilized the Hopkins Sleep Survey which the subjects filled up at the start and at the end of the research to identify specific sleep disorders, such as daytime fatigue, sleep apnea, and insomnia.

The subjects in both the pre-diabetes and type 2 diabetes groups shed an average of 15 pounds and lost an average of 15 percent of their belly fat. The overall sleep score of both groups improved by approximately 20 percent with no difference between them. Reduced overall body fat, particularly belly fat, was cited as the key element for the improved sleep quality demonstrated in the study, said Kerry Stewart, EdD, professor of medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Stewart, who is also the school’s director of clinical and research exercise physiology, added that this observation was true regardless of the gender or age of the subjects or whether the weight loss was from dieting alone or from the combination of diet and exercise.

WebMD: More on weight and sleep

Taking a slightly different approach on sleep and weight loss, an article in the Canadian Medical Association Journal commented on the growing scientific literature suggesting that having quality sleep is just as valuable to maintaining the right weight as dieting and exercising regularly. Further, poor sleep can not only just prevent weight loss or bring about weight gain. Sleep apnea, a condition manifested by abnormal breathing while sleeping, makes a person at high risk for stroke and diabetes, among other health issues.

Even if a person isn’t overweight, lack of sleep could jeopardize that individual’s chances of staying slim. Those who are sleep-deprived have the tendency to eat more calories compared to others. So it definitely makes sense to consider quality of sleep along with diet and exercise when it comes to maintaining a healthy body composition.

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Sleep and Weight Loss: Good Sleep Fosters Ideal Weight

A recent research conducted by the St. Luke’s–Roosevelt Hospital Center and Columbia University in New York suggests that having adequate sleep may contribute to the reduction of food intake and help battle obesity. Its findings show a strong correlation between sleep and weight loss, and suggests that seeking insomnia treatment can have a positive impact on overweight individuals who suffer from sleeplessness.

Brain scans of research subjects were used for a better understanding of the connection between obesity and sleep restriction. The scan results showed that the brain reward centers that were less active when the subjects had adequate sleep were activated by the sight of junk food after a period of restricted sleep.

The researchers, led by Marie-Pierre St-Onge, PhD, gathered twenty-five subjects consisting of men and women having normal weights. While these subjects were viewing images of healthy and unhealthy food items, functional resonance imaging (fMRI) were performed on them after two varying sleep periods. They were subjected to fMRI scans five nights after either having their sleep restricted to four hours or after having them continue sleeping up to nine hours. The scan results were then compared.

The comparison indicated that the sight of unhealthy food during a period of sleep restriction activated reward centers in the brain that were less active when participants had adequate sleep, St-Onge said. These brain regions, she added, weren’t involved when the subjects viewed images of healthy foods. This result may be an indication that there is a greater propensity to be tempted into eating unhealthy food items when an individual is sleep restricted, she noted.

Why Unhealthy Foods Appear Rewarding

Past studies have shown that increased food consumption results from restricted sleep in healthy persons, and that following a span of sleep deprivation, there are self-reported increases in the yearning for salty and sweet foods. The results of their recent study further bolster previous findings that short sleep provides impetus toward obesity and appetite modulation, St-Onge said. With restricted sleep, individuals are wont to consider unhealthy foods as rewarding and highly salient, she explained. The data on food intake from this study showed that the subjects consumed more food overall and took in more fat following a period of sleep deprivation compared to that span of time when they had regular sleep, she said.

These results were based on brain imaging data gathered from the brain’s neurocognitive regions, St-Onge added. This study was presented in this year’s annual meeting of Associated Professional Sleep Societies (APSS) in Boston. The meeting was attended by international delegates consisting of 5,500 leading scientists and clinicians specializing not only in sleep research but also providing insomnia help.