– By Andrea M. Pampaloni, Ph.D.
“Sleep that soothes away all our worries. Sleep that puts each day to rest. Sleep that relieves the weary laborer and heals hurt minds. Sleep, the main course in life’s feast, and the most nourishing.”
William Shakespeare strikes again, and that guy really knows what he’s talking about!
The joy of a good night’s sleep! For some people, it takes only a few minutes sitting in a comfortable chair or being lulled by the movement of a car to fall fast into a sound slumber. For others, however, sleep is elusive, kept at bay by nonstop thoughts and questions that appear out of nowhere and seem in no hurry to leave. Those who fall into the second group probably aren’t getting their recommended seven to nine hours of sleep each night, and that could jeopardize their health.
People who carry extra pounds are more likely than those at a healthy weight to have difficulty sleeping or experience insomnia, a sleep disorder characterized by having trouble falling or staying asleep. To make matters worse, if you don’t get enough sleep, you’re more likely to gain weight — it’s a vicious circle! Even after a good night’s sleep, those who are overweight or have obesity still might feel tired during the day because their bodies have to work harder on everyday tasks such as going up stairs or taking care of household chores.
A common cause of restless nights is sleep apnea. There are three different types of sleep apnea. Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) is the most common and occurs when the airway becomes blocked during sleep. Loud snoring is often a symptom of OSA. Central sleep apnea is similar, but instead of the airway becoming blocked, the body’s signal to inhale doesn’t reach the brain. Complex sleep apnea is a combination of both: the airway becomes blocked and the brain fails to signal the body to breathe. In all cases, sleep is interrupted several times.
Anyone can have sleep apnea, but it is common in men over the age of 40 and post-menopausal women, and those who with overweight or obesity are 20 percent more likely to experience it. In fact, the American Sleep Apnea Association suggests that 80 percent of OSA cases are undiagnosed, indicating that many more people are affected. Several conditions that are linked to obesity, including diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol, also contribute to sleep apnea.
Other factors, such as stress, depression, medications or alcohol can also impact sleep. Regardless of the cause, the outcomes are similar: poor quality and shorter durations of sleep. The effects of this often carry over in the form of daytime grogginess, which contributes to more anxiety, depression, mood problems and insomnia. Another brutal cycle!
Fortunately there are solutions. For those with OSA, continuous positive airway pressure — or CPAP — machines are a common treatment. Sleeping on your side can also help. Meditation and winding down before bedtime can also be relaxing and help to signal the body that it’s time to shut down.
Of course, weight loss can offer tremendous relief, and exercising is shown to help people fall asleep faster and sleep longer and better than those who don’t exercise. In fact, losing 10 percent of body weight can offer a 20 percent improvement in the effects of OSA, while weight gain of 10 percent can increase the risk of OSA progressing by six times.
Seven uninterrupted hours of sleep may seem like a dream, but it’s possible. A consistent sleep schedule (even on weekends), more exercise and outdoor time, avoiding alcohol and caffeine close to bedtime, and turning off your devices can help. With a little effort and some small, consistent changes, you could be “sleeping like a baby” in no time!
About the Author: Dr. Andrea Pampaloni has over 20 years of communication experience across corporate, academic, nonprofit and government sectors. She provides research and writing services on a range of business issues and industry-specific topics to prepare white papers, articles, proposals, presentations, technical content, and speaking points, as well as marketing-communications content such as blogs, website content, newsletters, news releases and award submissions. Dr. Pampaloni’s research findings have been presented at national and international conferences and published in peer-reviewed journals, and she is a ghostwriter for three books, a Forbes article, and several corporate blogs.