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December 5, 2023

Conversations on Health: Unveiling the Link Between Sleep and Obesity

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person standing in front of a window, opening the curtains to the morning sun

"I've been hearing a lot about sleep and obesity treatments lately. Is there a linkage?" my mother-in-law asked; her curiosity was evident with all the news on social media and TV.

I couldn't help but smile, realizing that the science behind sleep and obesity could be a relatable and intriguing topic for a Thanksgiving dinner conversation. I finished my bite of turkey and a sip of my drink and began to share some thoughts.

"Absolutely! The link between sleep and obesity is more complex than one might think. You see, our bodies have a sensitive balance, and sleep plays a crucial role in maintaining that balance," I explained.

I chatted about the ideal sleep time for adults, emphasizing the recommended 7-9 hours for optimal health. As I delved deeper into the consequences of insufficient sleep, her eyes widened with interest.

"Believe it or not," I elaborated, "an inadequate amount of sleep disarranges our hunger hormones balance. It decreases leptin, the 'fullness' hormone, and increases ghrelin, the 'hunger' hormone. This hormonal imbalance increases the likelihood of uncontrollable hunger and weight gain."

As the dinner table absorbed the information, my sister, who is around my age, continued asking, "So, how much of a difference does sleep make in our health?"

"Well," I continued, "sleeping for less than 5 hours increases the risk of being overweight by 30%, and even 5-6 hours raises it by 20%. Those who frequently sleep less than 5 hours are twice as likely to have obesity. It's not just about the hours, but about the quality of sleep and its impact on our overall health outcomes."

Casually leaning back, I suggested, "So, next time you're chatting with someone you care about, ask them, 'How's your sleep doing?' You might uncover some valuable information about their well-being and health."

To make things relatable, I shared a tip, "We use tools like the Epworth Sleepiness Scale or the STOP-BANG questionnaire. They're like secret weapons to uncover the mysteries of sleep habits."

The conversation naturally shifted to the various sleep disorders related to obesity, and I shared anecdotes about patients dealing with obstructive sleep apnea, obesity hypoventilation syndrome, insomnia, shift work circadian rhythm disorder, and sleep-related eating disorders.

"Obstructive sleep apnea, for example, is quite common in individuals with a BMI over 30 kg/m2. It disrupts deep sleep, stimulates hormonal imbalances, and increases the risk of diabetes and heart disease," I explained.

Everyone at the table, now engaged in the topic, asked about treatments and solutions for these sleep disorders and the prevention of weight gain. I detailed the various options, from Positive Airway Pressure modalities to oral appliances, alternative therapies, and lifestyle changes for managing obesity-related sleep disorders.

As the evening progressed, the discussion touched on insomnia, the use of sleep aids, and the impact of shift work on circadian rhythms. Everyone seemed genuinely intrigued, absorbing the information about how these factors contribute to the obesity epidemic.

As we wrapped up our Thanksgiving dinner conversation, I could sense a newfound awareness in the room and wished I could use more opportunities to bring more attention in this very casual way. The connection between sleep and obesity had become a focal point of our discussion, initiated mainly by curiosity, and everyone left the table with not only satisfied stomachs but also a deeper understanding of the crucial role sleep and weight play in our overall well-being.

"Who would have thought that a Thanksgiving dinner could turn into a crash course on sleep and obesity?" my mother-in-law remarked, chuckling. I responded with a grin, "Well, regarding health, knowledge is the best side dish."

Article written by:

Rafael Sepulveda

Rafael J. Sepulveda-Acosta, MD, DABOM

Dr. Rafael Sepulveda is the founder and medical director of Sleep Fit Medical - Sleep & Weight Management Center in Sonoma, California. He served as a member of the Outreach Committee of the Obesity Medicine Association and, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) Public Awareness Committee from 2020 to 2023 and is currently in the AASM Foundation Community Sleep Health Grant Review Committee. He received fellowship training in Sleep Medicine at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center in Memphis in 2017 and holds a board certification in Obesity Medicine from the American Board of Obesity Medicine. Dedicated to optimizing patient outcomes and offering education about sleep and obesity, Dr. Sepulveda recognizes the intricacies of providing adequate and accessible patient care. Over time, he has honed his skills in navigating the world of sleep and obesity medicine in the healthcare system in order to ensure top-tier patient care.