Patients will often ask “what can I do to improve my sleep quality naturally?” Weight loss is often the answer given by sleep specialists. It is well established that certain behaviors are associated with poorer quality sleep:
- Weight gain
- Excessive alcohol use
- Poor sleep hygiene and sleep deprivation
Excessive daytime sleepiness is a common complaint of obese patients. While the literature clearly establishes a link between obesity and obstructive sleep apnea (OSA)/snoring, even those obese patients without sleep apnea frequently suffer from daytime fatigue. Typically, your doctor will recommend weight loss and for many patients this may take months or years. However, a recent study published in the journal of Sleep indicates that dietary modifications may start improving sleep quality fairly rapidly.
The study evaluated 2 groups of obese mice. One group was fed a high-fat diet while the 2nd group ate a normal diet. The group that was fed the high fat diet was noted to have poorer sleep quality. In addition, the researchers added a very interesting secondary test. A group of mice that were previously fed a normal diet were switched to a high fat diet for 1 week and the group previously fed a high-fat diet received normal food for 1 week. While both groups had similar body weights after the week, the group that was fed the high fat diet experienced significantly worse sleep. The conclusion of lead author, Isaac Perron, was that “acute dietary manipulations are sufficient to alter sleep and wakefulness independent of body weight.”
This study has implications for overweight and normal body weight patients. Acute dietary changes can impact sleep. Thus, even normal body weight patients may experience poorer quality of sleep if they “over-indulge.” More importantly, this may serve as inspiration for patients to lose weight or modify their eating behaviors. According to this research, overweight patients may not need to lose all the weight they have gained to notice an improvement in their sleep quality. This may serve as motivation to continue weight loss.
Dietary modifications and weight loss will continue to be an important method to help patients with sleep disorders and they are things patients can control themselves. Excessive fatigue and snoring can be a sign of more serious health conditions, such as OSA, and may require additional treatment. Please talk to your sleep doctor about the best solution to your problem.
Perron IJ, Pack AI, Veasey S. Diet/energy balance affect sleep and wakefulness independent of body weight. SLEEP 2015;38(12):1893–1903.