Sleep is an important part of the day. In sleep, our bodies are repaired. Multiple studies have shown that lack of sleep can increase the risk of conditions such as hypertension, type 2 diabetes, depression, and anxiety. Recently, a meta-analysis has found evidence that the lack of sleep can increase the size of your waistline.
According to the World Health Organization, obesity is a national epidemic that affects more than 78 million Americans. Interestingly, the average amount of sleep in the United States has decreased over the years. According to the National Sleep Foundation, the average American sleeps about 6 1/2 hours per night. In the 1950’s, Americans slept about 9 hours per night. Is the obesity epidemic related to this decrease in sleep?
The meta-analysis from Syracuse University included 21 articles using data collected from over 56,000 participants. The researchers found that there is a relationship between sleep duration and central adiposity.
Healthcare providers have to take this information seriously and instruct patients to be aware of how much sleep they are getting per night. Of course, as a sleep provider, I ask this question regularly. Unfortunately in my experience, patients are not getting the sleep they need. Most cannot resist that nightly temptation to sit in front of the television for hours.
So what can we do to improve our patients’ lives? Most patients do not want to carry around that extra 20-30 pounds (or more!). Ask them if they can set limits on how much they sit in the evening hours. Suggest activities like taking a post-dinner stroll in the neighborhood. They can even start groups for those who would like to meet in the evenings for walks. In my family, we only allow one hour of TV watching per night. We DVR the shows we like and watch them later, so we never feel like we are missing something.
It’s not only TV that causes people to stop moving. Our whole culture revolves around electronics and technology. Some people have difficulty shutting down the computer for the night. I suggest not using electronics 1-2 hours before bed – mostly because the light can keep people awake, but also because it keeps them sedentary.
Whatever your strategy, the obesity epidemic is out of control, and it contributes to multiple health issues. We have to talk to patients and stop ignoring what is happening. Perhaps you can share these study findings with your patients, encouraging them to move and get the rest they need each night. Remind them to be sure they are getting adequate sleep.
Have you found something that encourages your patients get more sleep? If so, please comment and share with us.
Sharon M. O’Brien MPAS, PA-C, is a practicing clinician with an interest is helping patients understand the importance of sleep hygiene and the impact of sleep on health.
- Sperry SD Scully ID Gramzow RH Jorgensen RS. SLEEP. 2015; doi:38(8):1269-1276.