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Sleep More, Weigh Less

The quantity of sleep you get could be affecting not just your weight, but your potential to become obese. If that is not a wake-up call, I do not know what is.
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So you are sitting in your doctor's office, maybe for a physical, maybe for a cold, and they proceed with the pre-consultation evaluation by taking your vitals, including your least favorite: your weight.

Many people will not even look at the scale, some will try taking everything off (shoes, belts, etc.) while others will try the opposite strategy of leaving everything on, but telling the nurse that they need to deduct 10 pounds for clothes, shoes, etc. The nurse will gently smile, and then roll her eyes as she leaves you in the room waiting for the doctor.

Once the doctor arrives, eventually the subject comes up of your weight. Maybe it has changed, maybe it is stable, but either way it is not in the place that either your doctor or you want it to be. And then come the recommendations:

• Try eating fewer calories
• Try exercising more
• Try a new diet
• Join a gym
• Get your family involved
• Stop snacking after 7 p.m.

You look at him or her and just start thinking, "Don't you think I have tried those things? Can't you tell me something new?"

Yes. I can.

There is now sufficient evidence to suggest that sleep loss and weight loss are linked! I first started to suspect this relationship in my patients who have sleep apnea. Once diagnosed, we would place patients on either a CPAP, oral appliance, or have them evaluated for a specific surgery to help control their apnea. Then something amazing happened -- they began to lose weight! At first I thought:

1. It was simply that they had more energy and were exercising more
2. Then I thought it was that they were eating less for quick energy during the day
3. Then some patients told me that they were less hungry once they had a good night's sleep

Well, maybe it's more than that.

What does the research say about how big we are as a nation and our sleep habits? Let's take a look historically. Look at the obesity rate over the past 50 years, and compare the amount of sleep people report getting over the same period:


It sure seems like a lot has happened since 1995, both in terms of sleep and obesity! As the amount of time spent asleep has been going down, the level of obesity has been going up.

The National Sleep Foundation recommends that the average adult needs between seven and nine hours of sleep per night, yet the Sleepless in America Poll (2005) shows that the average American reports getting 6.85 hours each evening.

So the average person is getting less than the lowest recommended amount of sleep?

Let's do some quick math to learn what this could mean for you if you sleep the average 6.85 hours per night? Check out this chart:


If you really only need 7 hours and you actually get 10 minutes less each night, you can probably make up that sleep on the weekend by sleeping in an hour, or better yet going to bed an hour earlier on Saturday night.

But if you really need eight hours of sleep and you are only getting seven hours each night, then you lose a full night of sleep each week! That is 52 nights of sleep each year! And if you need more than eight, you could be in real trouble. But what does that have to do with weight loss?

In the Nurses' Health Study, 70, 000 women were studied to see if not sleeping enough increased their future weight gain and even if they were at risk of becoming obese. The results were fascinating:

• Women who slept between seven and eight hours per night had the lowest risk for major weight gain.
• Other studies showed that those who slept fewer than seven hours per night were more likely to be obese.
o More specifically, after 16 years, it was discovered that women who slept five
hours or fewer were 5.4 pounds heavier than those who slept seven hours
o Those who slept five hours or fewer were 15 percent more likely to be obese
• A final study showed that those who lost 16 minutes of sleep per night had a dramatically increased risk for obesity.

So the quantity of sleep you get could be affecting not just your weight, but your potential to become obese! If that is not a wake-up call, I do not know what is! Of course there are other factors at play when it comes to obesity, including a sedentary life style, genetics and chronic overeating. And we have not begun to discuss the idea of sleep quality vs. sleep quantity.

Could there be a magic number of hours needed for sleep and weight loss? Maybe.

In 2005, researchers discovered that women who had the healthiest weight to height ratio spent, on average, 7.7 hours in bed each night.

Remember: Everyone has a different sleep need, the amount of sleep your body requires to function at its best. In "The Sleep Doctor's Diet Plan," I show you a step by step method to discover your sleep need and what the right bedtime is for you.

Sweet Dreams,

Michael J. Breus, PhD
The Sleep Doctor™

Everything you do, you do better with a good night's sleep™
twitter: @thesleepdoctor