Health/Wellness, Patient Blog, Weight Management | Nov 4 2020

Don’t skimp on your sleep: Connecting sleep and weight

Woman sleeping in bed with white sheets

Dietitians who work with overweight or obese patients for weight management likely counsel their patients on the importance of a healthy diet and physical activity. However, dietitians should also put an emphasis on the importance of a good night’s sleep. In 2015, the National Sleep Foundation concluded that only 26% of Americans were reaching the recommended eight hours of sleep per night. So, what’s the link between sleep and weight management? Let’s find out.

The importance of getting those zzzzs

Inadequate sleep has been linked to increased hunger, fatigue and an increased consumption of total calories.  Sleep restriction causes significant metabolic changes such as decreased leptin and elevated ghrelin. This means lack of sleep increases a person’s appetite. Studies have shown that increased fatigue from lack of sleep decreases the interest in and follow-through with physical activity. Sleep deprived children and adults are eating more and exercising less.

Northwestern Medicine conducted a study on the sleep and meal routines of 51 participants, 21 of whom didn’t get the recommended amount of sleep and went to bed late in the evening. Participants who had a poorly regulated sleep schedule ate dinner after 8:00 PM and an extra meal around 10:00 PM, resulting in an additional consumption of 248 calories a day. Without adequate exercise, the authors concluded that this eating and sleeping pattern would add two pounds per month to the participants’ baseline weight. So, how can we as dietitians provide recommendations to our clients to help support healthy sleep routines?

How to promote adequate sleep in pediatric patients

If children are sleeping well, it makes it easier for parents to get a good night’s rest. The American Academy of Pediatrics believes that inadequate sleep in children is associated with an increase in injuries, hypertension, obesity and even depression. Barriers to adequate sleep in children include limited physical activity during the day, access to electronic devices, increased schoolwork, and poor coping skills and stress reduction techniques.

Some tips to help improve the children’s sleep is to keep their bedrooms clean and free of clutter, keep a similar sleep schedule all week (even on the weekends), and have a simple bedtime routine with little variation.  As the children get older, their total sleep needs decrease and they should have more responsibility in their nighttime routine.

Sleep recommendations for children

Less than 1 year: 12 to 16 hours

1 to 2 years: 11 to 14 hours

3 to 5 years: 10 to 13 hours

6 to 12 years: 9 to 12 hours

13 to 18 years: 8 to 10 hours

How to help promote adequate sleep in adult patients

Many adults have difficulty with work/life balance, and therefore, they often restrict sleep during the week and feel that they can “catch up” during weekends or holidays.  This creates an irregular sleep pattern, which makes it harder to fall asleep. Encourage your patients to create a healthy sleep schedule. In order to help wind down from the stress of the day, many adults find the best time to exercise is at night when their work and family responsibilities are over. Strenuous exercise before bed can interfere with one’s ability to fall asleep. Therefore, it may be best to exercise in the morning or earlier in the day.

Both alcohol and caffeine are often overconsumed in adults. Encourage your clients to have caffeinated beverages only before lunch time, if they have trouble sleeping. While alcohol can make consumers feel drowsy, it can interfere with sleep quality making individuals feel more tired the next day. Encourage your patients to limit their total alcohol consumption, and instead, utilize activities that promote relaxation before sleep. This can be light stretching, meditation or reading a book.

Sleep recommendations for adults

Younger adults (18 to 64 years): 7 to 9 hours

Older adults (65+ years): 7 to 8 hours

If you have more questions about sleep and weight management, it’s always a great idea to speak with a registered dietitian. Registered dietitians are the only credentialed experts qualified to address your unique health questions.

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Schleder, B., & Stott, K. (2002). THE EFFECT OF A COMPREHENSIVE ORAL CARE PROTOCOL ON PATIENTS AT RISK FOR VENTILATOR-ASSOCIATED PNEUMONIA. Journal of Advocate Health Care, 4(1), 27-30. Retrieved September 10, 2020.
Sara O'Brien, MS, RDN

About Sara O’Brien

Sara O'Brien, MS, RDN, is the Regional Access Manager for Nutricia North America. Previously she worked as a pediatric dietitian and clinical nutrition manager in both outpatient and acute care settings. She completed a combined bachelor's degree and dietetic internship at the University of Connecticut and a Master’s Degree in Dietetics at the University of Rhode Island. Sara is a specialist in pediatric nutrition and believes in an individualized patient-focused approach to nutrition

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