Weight loss tips: Regular sleep can help

Getting regular, uninterrupted sleep may help those trying to lose weight, according to a new small study.

The preliminary study was presented this week at the American Heart Association's 2023 Epidemiology, Prevention, Lifestyle and Cardiometabolic Health Scientific Sessions in Boston.

In the study, researchers looked at 125 adults participating in a one-year weight loss program and measured their sleep habits to see if there was any correlation between maintaining a healthy sleep schedule and achieving weight goals .

“Focusing on getting a good night's sleep—seven to nine hours at night, a regular wake-up time, and waking up refreshed and alert throughout the day—can be an important behavior that helps people stick to Their physical activity and dietary adjustment goals,” Christopher E. Kline, Ph.D., an associate professor in the Department of Health and Human Development at the University of Pittsburgh, said in a news release. “One of our previous studies reported that better sleep health was associated with significant reductions in body weight and fat during a one-year behavioral weight loss program.”

The vast majority of participants were women, accounting for 91% of the sample, with a mean age of 50 years.

Sleep habits were measured at the beginning of the program, at the halfway mark of six months, and at the final 12 months. Participants filled out patient questionnaires and sleep diaries, but sleep data was also recorded over a seven-day period during which participants wore a device on their wrist that recorded their sleep and waking activity.

Their sleep quality was rated as “good” or “poor” in terms of regularity, satisfaction, alertness, timing, duration and efficiency — meaning the percentage of time the participants were actually asleep in bed.

To compare sleep with participants' progress in the weight loss program, the researchers looked at the percentage of group sessions each participant attended, the percentage of days that participants reported meeting their dietary goals, and the change in their duration of moderate exercise to Vigorous physical activity.

The researchers adjusted for sex, age, race and whether the participants slept with a partner, which can affect sleep quality.

After controlling for these factors, the researchers found that better sleep health was associated with higher group meeting attendance, stricter adherence to caloric intake goals, and participants' increased duration of physical activity over time.

Research shows that, in essence, those who sleep better at night may be more energized to exercise and attend meetings to achieve their goals.

Participation in the program declined across the board during the last six months of the program, which the researchers say is common in these programs, but the pattern persisted.

“There are over 100 studies linking sleep to weight gain and obesity, but this is a great example of how sleep is not just about weight itself, but what we do to help manage our weight,” Michael A. Grandner, director of the Sleep and Health Research Program at the University of Arizona, said in a news release.

“Studies like this really show that all of these things are connected, and sometimes sleep is something we can start to control, and it can help open the door to other pathways to health.”

Limitations of the study are its size and lack of diversity among participants, as well as the fact that most participants had relatively good sleep health at the start of the program. More research is needed to obtain results that can be applied more broadly.

“It's unclear whether optimizing sleep before trying to lose weight is better than optimizing sleep during weight loss,” Klein said. “In other words, should clinicians tell their patients to focus on getting better and more regular sleep before they start trying to lose weight, or should they try to improve sleep along with improving diet and activity levels?”

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