More Evidence That Good Sleep Helps with Obesity

Hendrickje SleepingMany people are not getting enough sleep and the trend is going in the wrong direction. This is a problem for youth and working adults alike. New data again reminds us that good sleep is an important tool for overcoming obesity. But the diet and exercise trope that dominates public discourse about obesity crowds out this important risk factor. It becomes a footnote.

So now seems ever more likely that neglecting the stress on our sleep patterns is a drag on efforts to deal with the steady climb in obesity across the population.

The Link to Weight Regain

For a start, data presented at ECO2022 gives us good reason to believe that even with good treatments for obesity, poor sleep patterns can interfere with a person’s ability to maintain the clinical improvements.

At the end of a randomized clinical trial of liraglutide for obesity, participants continued into a maintenance phase. Through random assignment, people received either placebo, placebo plus exercise, liraglutide, or liraglutide plus exercise. This phase continued for a year. NEJM published results of the primary analysis last year. As we might expect, the combination of liraglutide and exercise yielded the best results.

However, the researchers also collected data on sleep patterns using accelerometers. They found that weight and sleep were something of a two-way street. Sleep quality and duration improved after weight loss. Exercise in the maintenance phase seemed to help with preserving improved sleep quality. And then finally, adults with poor sleep patterns going into the study had a tougher time keeping weight off.

Sleep More, Eat a Little Less

A new RCT gives us a clue why sleep may help with maintaining a healthier weight. Esra Tasali and colleagues studied 80 adults who were sleeping less than 6.5 hours nightly. They randomized them to a control group or a group receiving behavioral support to extend their sleeping time. The treatment group wound up sleeping an extra 1.2 hours.

But here’s where it gets interesting. There was not diet intervention in this study. Nonetheless, people in the treatment group not only got more sleep. They also just naturally ate a little less. About 270 calories per day less – measured with doubly labeled water. No fussy diet. Just a natural reduction in calorie consumption with more sleep.

So maybe we can fuss a little less about restrictive diets and put a bit of that effort into efforts to overcome sleep deficits. Our bodies will thank us.

Click here for the study from ECO2022; you’ll find the abstract on page 134. You can find further perspective on this study here. For the study of sleep and energy intake, click here, and then here for a commentary on it.

Hendrickje Sleeping, sketch by Rembrandt / WikiArt

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May 11, 2022