I’m fat because I’m tired, and I’m tired because I’m fat


Nowadays, little attention is given to the need for sleep. The human body is designed to get between seven and eight hours of sleep per night to function normally during the daytime. Most people don’t get the recommended amount of sleep. As a result, physicians often see the outcomes of obesity, metabolic syndrome, Type-II diabetes and vascular disease.

Recent data suggests that individuals between the ages of 32 and 59 who reported sleeping less than 4 hours/night were 73 per cent more likely to be obese and those who reported sleeping six hours/night were 23 per cent more likely to be obese. Physicians are seeing more overweight patients with disordered sleeping patterns, poor appetite control, and difficulty losing weight and maintaining weight loss. So what kinds of sleep disorders are there?

Let’s specifically discuss a few of the sleep disorders that can interfere with weight loss and maintenance. “Night Owls” are those of you who go to bed late at night and find yourselves more productive in the evening. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a mood disorder which affects people during the winter months causing depression and can cause people to sleep more than normal and feel sleepy or lethargic during the day. Both “night owls” and SAD patients crave high-calorie foods late in the day.

Obstructive Sleep apnea (OSA) is brief periods of cessation of breathing during the night from a collapsing airway which can fragment sleep. This can cause weight gain even if you are getting the required 7-8 hours of sleep per night due to poor sleep quality. The risk of having sleep apnea increases significantly when you are overweight. This is due to excess body fat on the neck and chest which adds weight to an already relaxed airway during sleep, therefore partially or completely collapsing the airway.

Among obese people 70 per cent have OSA. Common signs and symptoms of OSA are disruptive snoring, gasping for air during the night, high blood pressure, daytime sleepiness/fatigue, irritability, memory impairment and increased appetite just to name a few. So where do you go from here?

You can try the basic sleep hygiene tips listed below. If you are still having trouble with fatigue and sleepiness during the day then you should be investigated further for a sleep disorder. There are certain clinics and physicians qualified to diagnose and treat sleep disorders. The first step is to get a referral to a sleep specialist from your family doctor. Many provincial healthcare plans will cover your consultation and follow up visits to see the sleep specialist. During the consultation, the sleep specialist will ask you specific questions to see if you have a sleep disorder.

There are take home tests and overnight sleep studies done in the lab that can let you know if sleep apnea is affecting you. If you are sent to a sleep lab for overnight testing, it is best to go to an accredited sleep center that has at least one registered technician on staff if possible. Due to the fact that awareness of sleep disorders is still growing, it may be a challenge to find a lab or specialist close to home.

Of course weight control ultimately comes down to you. Exercise and healthy eating habits are a necessity, but don’t underestimate the power of sleep.

Improve Your Sleep Hygiene

  • Try to keep a consistent bedtime and wake time.
  • Only go to bed when you are sleepy.
  • Only use the bedroom for sleeping and sexual activity only.
  • If you are having trouble sleeping, get out of bed and do a relaxing activity.
  • Do not clock watch.
  • Try to get 7-8 hours of sleep per night.
  • Use your weekends to catch up on sleep debt if you missed some Z’s during the week.
  • Avoid sleeping in other areas of the house, only sleep in your bed.
  • Avoid caffeine 6 hours prior to sleep.
  • Do not use alcohol to initiate sleep; this actually reduces your sleep quality.
  • Exercise regularly
  • Avoid large meals before bedtime.
  • Limit napping if you have trouble getting to sleep at night.

For more information on sleep hygiene, visit the Centre for Sleep and Human Performance.