Sleep, stress, and weight loss

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Many studies have shown that sleep deprivation promotes poor food choices and weight gain.  Stress and depression can obviously contribute to eating high fat/sugar/salt foods.  These can be vicious cycles.

As I started to lose weight, my mood improved, which kept me going.  As I lost even more weight, eventually my sleep apnea went away, and I was able to sleep more and better.  I also continue to take melatonin to help me sleep better.  However, in recent weeks, I’ve had pain that’s kept me from sleeping so well, and it becomes harder to stay on track.  Fortunately, my eating is so regularized now, that I automatically continue eating healthy choices (i.e., I don’t reach for a donut just because I’m tired).

Better physical function leads to better mood, leads to better choices and more physical activity – a virtuous cycle!  So, it’s no surprise to me to read this in the International Journal of Obesity:

…those sleeping 6 h and reporting the highest stress score at baseline were approximately only half as likely to achieve eligibility for Phase II as those sleeping >6 and 8 h with a low stress score.

… there is accumulating evidence that highly palatable food can activate a neurologic reward system (opioid, dopamine and endocannabanoid signaling in the limbic system38) producing powerful behavioral reinforcement to food similar to that seen in drugs of abuse. Thus, if stress becomes chronic and eating is learned to be an effective coping behavior, highly palatable food may appear to be ‘addictive’.
Given these potential mechanisms, helping people both to reduce stress in their lives and to better understand the possible link between stress and their appetite for energy- and nutrient-dense palatable foods may bolster their efforts at weight management. Furthermore, stress management tools could help individuals manage stress-related appetite cues, supporting their weight reduction efforts.
Exercise minutes, on the other hand, were highly correlated with weight loss.
For me, one of the most important aspects of exercise is the stress reduction that keeps me from making poor food choices.  The calories burned are great; the stress reduction is gravy!


Dr John Ellis MD

Board-certified anesthesiologist, with expertise in cardiovascular anesthesia and the implications of obesity and sleep apnea in anesthesia. See for professional information. Dr. Ellis has used the strategies in here to: (1) lose 120 lbs over 18 months, (2) stop all antihypertensive medicines, and (3) no longer need CPAP treatment for sleep apnea.

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