“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 Christopher E. Kline, Ph.D., an associate professor in the department of health and human development at the University of Pittsburgh, in a press release about the study. “A previous study of ours reported that better sleep health was associated with a significantly greater loss of body weight and fat among participants in a year-long, behavioral weight loss program.”
To determine their findings, researchers analyzed whether good sleep health was related to how well people followed various lifestyle modifications in a 12-month weight-loss program that included 125 adults with an average age of 50 years. Nearly all of the participants were women, 81% were white and all met criteria for overweight or obesity, according to their body mass index.
What constitutes “good sleep”
Researchers measured participants’ sleep habits at the beginning of the program, at six months and then again at 12 months through patient questionnaires, a sleep diary and seven-day readings from a device worn on their wrists that tracked sleep, waking activity and rest.
Participants received a score of “good” or “poor” based on six measures of sleep:
- Efficiency (the percentage of time spent in bed when actually asleep)
A score of 0-6 was then calculated for each participant, with one point added for each “good” measure of sleep health. Participants had an average sleep health score of 4.5 out of 6 at the start of the study, at 6 months and at 12 months.
Researchers 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-vigorous physical activity,” according to the study.
“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.”
However, researchers aren’t sure whether increased weight loss can improve sleep health and whether improved sleep should be recommended before attempts to lose weight.
“It remains unclear whether it would be best to optimize sleep prior to rather than during attempted weight loss,” Kline said. “In other words, should clinicians tell their patients to focus on getting better and more regular sleep before they begin to attempt weight loss, or should they try to improve their sleep while at the same time modifying their diet and activity levels?”
Health benefits of good sleep
Sleep is closely tied to heart health and in 2022, it was added as the eighth component of the American Heart Association’s Life Essential 8. Other components include eating healthy food, being physically active, not smoking, getting enough sleep, maintaining a healthy weight and controlling cholesterol, blood sugar and blood pressure levels.
Cardiovascular disease was listed as the underlying cause of death for 928,741 deaths in the U.S. in 2020 and claims more lives each year than all forms of cancer and chronic lower respiratory disease combined, according to the 2023 Statistical Update from the American Heart Association.
“There are over 100 studies linking sleep to weight gain and obesity, but this was a great example showing how sleep isn’t just tied to weight itself, it’s tied to the things we’re doing to help manage our own weight,” said Dr. Michael A. Grandner, director of the Sleep and Health Research Program at the University of Arizona and co-author of the Association’s Life’s Essential 8 cardiovascular health score. “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. “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.”
Learn how to navigate and strengthen trust in your business with The Trust Factor, a weekly newsletter examining what leaders need to succeed. Sign up here.