One of the things that my patients consistently tell me is that they seem to be sleeping more poorly than ever. I hear many versions of this, but the common thread is that as my patients gained weight over the years they have had a harder time falling asleep and had a much more difficult time obtaining restful sleep through the night. The partners of my patients report increased snoring and wakefulness, as well as early waking in the wee hours of the morning, and somehow it is just too hard to get back to sleep.
Why should sleeping become so difficult? There may be quite a few reasons as sleep disturbances are truly multifactorial problems. Part of the problem stems from the impaired mechanics of breathing that occurs with weight gain. With weight gain we snore more, we have more soft tissue obstruction in the mouth and throat, and it takes more effort to move the “bellows” of our chest and achieve good full breaths. But there are lots of other factors at work here.
As most of us know, there is a strong psychological aspect of sleep. If we are more stressed or more depressed, more anxious, more upset, we tend to sleep poorly. And weight-related health problems play a role. Pain from degenerating joints can keep us awake. Some medications interfere with good sleep.
How can weight loss help? Successful weight loss improves all the mechanical factors and physiological factors that impair sleep. Some of these are “diseases” in their own right such as obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). Others are just a milder form of sleep disturbance. But what also happens is perhaps more amazing: people who begin to feel better about themselves physically and see themselves as working toward an important purpose of weight loss and health improvement, feel better about themselves psychologically as well. And this has tremendous positive impact on sleep and restfulness.
With weight loss, often the physical and psychological aspects of sleep improve. And better sleep means feeling better throughout the day.