Getting better sleep may make it easier to stick to a weight-loss plan

By American Heart Association News

Dzonsli/E+ via Getty Images
(Dzonsli/E+ via Getty Images)

Sticking to an exercise and diet plan can be tough. But new research suggests one way to make it easier: getting a good night's sleep on a regular basis.

The findings, presented Friday at the American Heart Association's Epidemiology, Prevention, Lifestyle and Cardiometabolic Health conference in Boston, found that people with good sleep habits were better able to follow exercise and diet plans while trying to lose weight than those with poor sleep health. The research is considered preliminary until full findings are published in a peer-reviewed journal.

"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," lead study author Christopher E. Kline said in a news release. Kline is an associate professor in the department of health and human development at the University of Pittsburgh.

Kline and his colleagues investigated whether good sleep health was related to how well people followed lifestyle modifications in a 12-month weight-loss program. They measured sleep habits for 125 adults who were overweight or had obesity but were free of medical conditions that required medical supervision of their diets or physical activity. Participants were an average 50 years old and predominantly white and female.

The researchers measured sleep habits using questionnaires, sleep diaries and readings from a wrist-worn device that recorded sleep, waking activity and rest over a seven-day period. Six measures of sleep were scored as good or poor using a composite scale for sleep regularity, satisfaction, alertness, timing, percentage of time spent asleep in bed, and the number of hours slept.

Sleep measures were taken at the beginning of the study and again at six and 12 months. Adherence to the weight-loss program also was measured at these times by recording the percentage of group intervention sessions attended, the percentage of days participants consumed 85%-115% of recommended daily calories, and changes in daily duration of moderate or vigorous physical activity.

The analysis showed better sleep health was linked to higher rates of attendance at group sessions, higher rates of sticking to caloric intake goals and greater improvements in time spent on moderate to vigorous 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," Kline said. "Although we did not intervene on sleep health in this study, these results suggest that optimizing sleep may lead to better lifestyle modification adherence."

He suggested that future research examine whether improved sleep health can increase adherence to lifestyle modifications – and, ultimately, increase weight loss.

Michael Grandner, director of the Sleep and Heath Research Program at the University of Arizona in Tucson, said the new study showed how sleep isn't tied to just weight. "It's tied to the things we're doing to help manage our own weight," he said.

"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 Grandner, who co-wrote a presidential advisory from the AHA that added sleep duration to its list of key measures for good cardiovascular health, known as Life's Essential 8. He was not involved in the new research.

"Studies like this really go to show that all of these things are connected," he said, "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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