Regular, uninterrupted sleep can help people achieve their exercise and diet goals while trying to lose weight. These are the findings from new research presented at the American Heart Association’s Epidemiology, Prevention, Lifestyle & Cardiometabolic Health Scientific Sessions 2023.
Sleep health can improve cardiovascular health and is a key component of the American Heart Association’s Life’s Essential 8, alongside eating healthy and not smoking. According to the 2023 Statistical Update from the American Heart Association, cardiovascular disease claims more lives each year in the U.S. than all forms of cancer and chronic lower respiratory disease combined.
“Focusing on obtaining good sleep – seven to nine hours at night with a regular wake time along with waking refreshed and being alert throughout the day – may be an important behavior that helps people stick with their physical activity and dietary modification goals,” said Dr. Christopher E. Kline.
The researchers examined whether good sleep health was related to maintaining lifestyle modifications prescribed in a 12-month weight loss program. The study included 125 adults (average age of 50 years) who were overweight or obese.
At the beginning of the program, sleep habits were measured through questionnaires, sleep diaries, and 7-day readings from wrist-worn activity trackers.
The participants were scored as “good” or “poor” on six measures of sleep: regularity; satisfaction; alertness; timing; efficiency (the percentage of time spent in bed when actually asleep); and duration. A sleep health score of 0-6 was calculated for each participant, with one point for each “good” measure, and higher scores indicating better levels of sleep health.
At the beginning of the study, participants had an average sleep health score of 4.5 out of 6. Caloric intake was self-reported through a phone app and physical activity was measured with an accelerometer worn at the waist.
The experts found that better sleep health was associated with higher rates of attendance at group interval sessions, adherence to caloric intake goals, and improvement in time spent performing moderate physical activity.
“We had hypothesized that sleep would be associated with lifestyle modification; however, we didn’t expect to see an association between sleep health and all three of our measures of lifestyle modification,” said Dr. Kline. “Although we did not intervene on sleep health in this study, these results suggest that optimizing sleep may lead to better lifestyle modification adherence. ”
The study authors noted limitations, such as not intervening to improve participants’ sleep, and that the overall sample population had relatively good sleep health at baseline. The participants were also predominantly white and female, so it is unclear whether these results would apply to more diverse populations. Despite the limitations, this study confirms that sleep is tied to how we manage weight.
“This could be because sleep impacts the things that drive hunger and cravings, your metabolism and your ability to regulate metabolism and the ability to make healthy choices in general,” said study co-author Dr. Michael A. Grandner.
“Studies like this really go to show that all of these things are connected, and sometimes sleep is the thing that we can start taking control over that can help open doors to other avenues of health.”
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