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Sleep deprivation linked to weight issues

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GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. -- If your New Year's resolution was to drop a few pounds, your sleep routine could be just as important as diet and exercise.

We all know we should get enough sleep, but studies show not a lot of us actually do it.  If feeling irritable, sluggish and foggy isn’t enough motivation to grab more shut-eye, maybe research linking sleep deprivation to weight issues is.

A continuous positive airway pressure, or CPAP device, may look funny to some, but Kathleen Robinson can't imagine her life without it. Robinson first came to the Spectrum Health Sleep Disorders Center in Grand Rapids to help her sleep apnea. Turns out, this funny looking mask was the answer to her prayers. 

Kathleen Robinson and her CPAP machine

Kathleen Robinson and her CPAP machine

“I  definitely had an unhealthy cycle going of not sleeping well, not moving and craving foods," says Robinson. “They recommended that I use a CPAP. I tried it and it was wonderful.”

We live in a time that doesn't value sleep.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, we are in the middle of a sleep epidemic where Americans consistently don’t get the recommended seven to eight hours of sleep per night.

“I realized I really did have a problem with sleep,” Robinson said.  And that problem included weight issues.  At the time, she weighed more than 300 pounds. According to researchers, Robinson isn't the only one suffering.

“We have found that people who don't get adequate amounts of sleep, don't metabolize their energy as easily or as well, during the day," says adult practitioner Mary Barr.

Mary Barr from Spectrum Health

Mary Barr from Spectrum Health

According to Barr, hormones that tell you when you’re hungry or full get thrown off when you don’t log enough shut-eye. She said they trigger an overeating response and cravings for carbohydrates and sweets.

In other words, lack of sleep could be why you reach for that extra doughnut in the break room.

“They’re looking for a quick fix," says Barr. "They're looking for a way to get quick energy, and so the fast carbohydrates, the fast sugars, those will make them feel like they've got more energy quickly. But that tends to wear off, and then your body tends to store those extra calories as fat.”

After that, it’s a vicious cycle.

“If you don't feel refreshed in the morning, you're not going to be inclined to want to exercise in the day," explains Barr.  "You're not inclined to go to work and perform at your best. You just won't have the energy and enthusiasm to do these sorts of things."

Kathleen Robinson is a perfect example of what can happen when that cycle is broken. “When I started sleeping well, I wanted to move during the day and along with wanting to move, you just naturally want to eat better, and that really led me towards wanting to get my weight under control," she says.

From there, she noticed a ripple effect.

“Your eating is under better control. You feel more like socializing. You feel more like going out to see family. If something happens at work, your stress level is more easily managed and then you don't eat as much. I mean, it's just so interconnected."

The whole story is important for your overall health, especially if you’re overweight.

“The extra weight puts pressure on their diaphragm, which in turn, puts pressure on the upper respiratory system," Barr explains. "The large neck, that we know large people have when we are overweight, can compromise their breathing."

Working odd hours

What if you have a job where you work odd hours and can’t keep a normal sleep schedule? In these cases, Barr said it’s even more important to keep tabs on what you’re doing while awake to keep your weight in check.

“Carefully monitor the amount of calories you're taking in," says Barr. "Also, get an adequate amount of rest. Get enough sleep. Try to get those seven or eight hours you're supposed to be getting, and in addition, getting exercise. Make sure you're going to be burning your calories."

Kathleen Robinson now knows exactly what she needs to get a solid night's sleep and keep the pounds off. It took more than a decade to get to this point, but to her, it may be her most important journey yet.

“Sleep takes a long time to change, but it can be and I am thrilled with it," exclaims Robinson.

If you feel you have a deeper sleep issue, you can visit the Spectrum Health Sleep Disorder Centers in Grand Rapids.

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