There is a well-established stream of research that poor sleep is not only extremely prevalent in today’s fast-paced society, but also can lead to a variety of impairments.
These can range from reduced alertness for tasks such as driving, to lost work productivity, to sleep apnea.1,2 You should not be surprised to see a number of both new and established patients coming in to see you with complaints of sleep-related problems, ranging from insomnia, to daytime sleepiness, to snoring.
However, some new research shows that poor sleep can actually be even more dangerous than previously thought, as it may also be linked to obesity through your genes.
How are obesity and sleep linked, and how can you help your obese patients achieve better sleep?
The American Academy of Sleep Medicine and the Sleep Research Society recommends seven hours a night for adults between the ages of 18 and 60.2 However, according to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), as many as one in three American adults does not get enough sleep. Furthermore, in a CDC survey of almost 75,000 adults, almost half reported snoring during any given 24-hour period, 38 percent unintentionally fell asleep during the day at least once in the previous month, and almost 5 percent reported nodding off while driving at least once in the previous month.1,2
Poor sleep has also been linked to metabolic disorders such as diabetes and high blood pressure, as well as certain psychiatric conditions. These types of disorders are estimated to affect approximately 25-30 percent of the population.3,4
Genetic link between sleep and obesity
A recent study published in the Dec. 2016 issue of Nature Genetics examined the genetic maps of more than 112,000 study participants with sleep problems to determine if there were links between genetics, certain metabolic and psychiatric disorders, and sleep issues, including insomnia and excessive daytime sleepiness.4
The researchers first found where parts of the genome mapped to various sleep problems. Next, they were able to map those areas of the genome that were associated with sleep problems to various medical problems, including obesity. Specifically, there was a strong correlation between increased levels of excessive daytime sleepiness and measures for obesity (body mass index [BMI] and waist circumference).4
In a press release, the lead researcher noted, “It’s important to remember there is no molecular targeting available for conditions which affect sleep: all we really have are sedatives. So we hope that this research will enable scientists to develop new ways to intervene on a range of conditions in a much more fundamental way. We acknowledge these findings will need further study, but we believe this knowledge amounts to a key advance in our understanding of the biology behind sleep–a major influence on our health and behavior.”5
Helping your patients sleep better
Perhaps the best way you can use this research to help your patients get a better night’s sleep is through a two-pronged approach. Put together a comprehensive wellness plan combining exercise and a balanced, low-fat diet to help your obese patients lose weight, combined with a sleep support program.
Consider suggesting a therapeutic pillow or sleep bolster to reposition the head and neck into a better position to reduce snoring or stiff neck muscles. Certain herbs, such as valerian or chamomile, may also help promote sleep.
By working to improve both your patients’ weight issues and their sleep difficulties, you will double their chances to achieve better health. That should help them rest easier.
- Insufficient sleep is a public health problem. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention. Accessed 1/18/2017.
- 1 in 3 adults don’t get enough sleep. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention. Accessed 1/18/2017.
- Fernandez-Mendoza J, Vgontzas AN. Insomnia and its impact on physical and mental health. Current Psychiatry Reports 15(12):418.
- Lane JM, Liang J, Vlasac I, et al. Genome-wide association analyses of sleep disturbance traits identify new loci and highlight shared genetics with neuropsychiatric and metabolic traits. Nature Genetics 2016 Dec 19.
- Genetics link sleep disturbance with restless legs syndrome, schizophrenia, obesity. Sleep Review. Accessed 1/18/2017.