Obesity and Sleep Problems 

According to the Sleep Foundation an estimated 18 million Americans have sleep apnea, which is often associated with people who are overweight. Sleep apnea is a serious, potentially life-threatening condition that is characterized by brief interruptions in breathing during sleep. The risk of sleep apnea increases due to compromised respiratory function as a result of weight gain.

Recent research suggests that at least one factor in obesity can be sleep deprivation. Poor sleep and sleep deprivation may increase appetite. Because the psychological manifestations of fatigue, sleep and hunger are similar, as adults, we sometimes confuse them-we tend to eat when we're actually sleepy, because we think fatigue is a sign of hunger.

Treating Sleep Problems and Obesity
Sometimes the best way to treat obesity can be to treat an underlying sleep problem. For example, successful treatment of sleep apnea may reduce sleepiness and then motivate patients to effectively lose weight, which will in turn help the obesity and the sleep apnea.

So if you are overweight or obese and sleep poorly or feel tired during the day, what should you do? Sleep experts say:

1. Talk to your bed partner who is likely to hear loud snoring and apnea (pauses in breathing).

2. Talk to your primary care clinician about a referral to a sleep center in order to get a diagnosis.

3. After determining the diagnosis, discuss with your healthcare provider undertaking a weight loss plan. This is especially important for obese patients who are contemplating gastric surgery, since the use of CPAP before and after the surgery can be very important-in fact, life-saving.

4. After losing at least 10% of your body weight, consider undertaking another sleep study to determine further treatment.

Suggestions for Overweight Patients With Sleep Problems
Sleep experts say there are a number of things you can do to lose weight and improve your sleep:

  • Make healthy choices for your meals. Avoid fast foods. Eat more fish, fruits and vegetables; avoid foods high in carbohydrates or fats.
  • Start getting consistent exercise, which will improve the quality of your sleep. Most experts, however, say to avoid exercising less than 3 hours before bedtime, because exercise is alerting and can make it harder to fall asleep.
  • Examine your sleep schedule. Are you getting at least 7 hours of sleep each night? Do you wake up feeling refreshed or tired? Do you wake up frequently during the night?

If you experience sleep problems, talk to your doctor. Call 1-800-681-2733 or click here to find a physician near you.