Can’t reach your diet and exercise goals? Bad sleep may be to blame

DALLAS — A good night’s sleep may make it easier to stick to exercise and diet goals, according to a new study. Researchers working with the American Heart Association found that individuals who reported consistent, uninterrupted sleep were more successful in sticking to their exercise and diet plans during their weight loss efforts.

Dieters with superior sleep health — measured by regularity, satisfaction, alertness, timing, efficiency, and duration — during a year-long weight loss program were more likely to comply with the plan’s guidelines for daily calories and exercise routines compared to those with lower scores.

“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,” says Dr. Christopher Kline, the study’s lead author and an associate professor in the Department of Health and Human Development at the University of Pittsburgh, in a media release. “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.”

The research team investigated the connection between good sleep health and adherence to various lifestyle changes prescribed in a 12-month weight loss program. The program included 125 adults, predominantly women, with an average age of 50, who were classified as overweight or obese but did not have any medical conditions necessitating supervision of their diet or physical activity.

Sleep habits were evaluated at the start of the program, at six months, and at 12 months, using patient questionnaires, a sleep diary, and seven-day readings from a wrist-worn device that recorded sleep, waking activity, and rest. A composite sleep health score ranging from zero to six was assigned to each participant, with one point for each “good” measure of sleep health.

Scroll down to see how sleep fits into the 8 keys to better heart health

Woman sleeping

The study finds that participants attended 79 percent of group sessions in the first six months and 62 percent in the second six months. They achieved their daily caloric intake goals on 36 percent of days in the first six months and 21 percent in the second six months.

“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,” notes Dr. Kline. “Although we did not intervene on sleep health in this study, these results suggest that optimizing sleep may lead to better lifestyle modification adherence.”

Researchers primarily sampled White females, which makes it uncertain whether the results apply to other demographics. The researchers pose several questions for future research, including whether improving an individual’s sleep health could increase adherence to lifestyle modifications and ultimately enhance weight loss. The team also wondered about the optimal timing for sleep enhancement interventions relative to the commencement of a weight-loss attempt.

“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. 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,” says co-author Dr. Michael Grandner. “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.”

The findings were presented at the American Heart Association’s Epidemiology, Prevention, Lifestyle, and Cardiometabolic Health Scientific Sessions in Boston.

Sleep has been added to the American Heart Association’s Life’s Essential 8

The AHA notes that sleep was added as the eighth component of optimal cardiovascular health in 2022. Before that, the list included eating healthy food, being physically active, not smoking, maintaining a healthy weight, and controlling cholesterol, blood sugar, and blood pressure levels.

Additional studies have found that the Life’s Essential 8 (LE8) may hold the key to a modern-day “fountain of youth.” During recent trials examining LE8, those who scored highest tended to live longer and avoided the onset of chronic diseases during that time.

“We categorized Life’s Essential 8 scores according to the American Heart Association’s recommendations, with scores of less than 50 out of 100 being poor cardiovascular health, 50 to less than 80 being intermediate, and 80 and above being ideal,” says Dr. Xuan Wang, a postdoctoral fellow and biostatistician in the department of epidemiology at Tulane University’s School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine.

Researchers define scores of 80 and above as “high cardiovascular health.” These individuals lived substantially longer than others in the study. Men and women at age 50 had an average 5.2 years and 6.3 years of increased total life expectancy, respectively, in comparison to their peers in the “poor” category. They also lived longer without chronic disease.

South West News Service writer Stephen Beech contributed to this report.

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