The surprising reason you’re sleepy all day
Slumping over your desk well before it’s appropriate to knock off? Before you blame those early starts, central heating or the “3pm effect” for the uncontrollable yawning, there might be another reason at work.
And it’s not what you might expect. Latest research from Penn State College of Medicine has found obesity and depression are the leading causes of chronic drowsiness.
The study, as published in the SLEEP Journal, analysed 1300 people over 7.5 years and found those who were obese and depressed showed higher sleep disturbances and excessive levels of daytime sleepiness (EDS). However, when they lost weight, drowsiness decreased.
With two in three adults in Australia currently overweight or obese this research could be considered ground breaking in the treatment of drowsiness or 3pm-itis. Instead of reaching for sleeping tablets or a chocolate bar, it may be as simple as upping your dose of healthy food and exercise.
So, does this mean we’ve finally uncovered the silent killer fuelling our nap needs? Well, according to the experts, the connection has been known for a while but we’re failing to realise how much our weight impacts sleep and mood.
Dr Nicholas Fuller, an expert in obesity and metabolic disorders at University of Sydney’s Charles Perkins Centre, says while this research is a well supported study, using a novel new approach – a polysomonography test (a sleep study that uses brain wave technology) it isn’t a new connection.
“We know already that people who are obese are sleepier during the day and that their night-time sleep is disturbed, compared to people of normal body weight.”
Fuller believes what the study does do though, is highlight once more the lesser known health issues obesity can lead to.
“It’s common for people to associate being overweight as having a higher risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular heart disease and some cancers, however a lot less is known surrounding the day to day effects on quality of life, such as alertness, breathlessness, excessive sweating, joint pain, snoring and general lethargy,” says Fuller.
Why though does excess weight affect sleep?
Dr David Hillman, chair of the Sleep Health Foundation says a previous study, conducted by the same authors of the latest SLEEP research, believe it’s due to the metabolic disturbances associated with weight gain. “While it’s not yet defined, obesity and sleep loss both show changes that promote inflammation and insulin resistance (a pro-diabetic change) in the body.”
So how then does depression fit into it all?
“Depression often disturbs sleep and, conversely, disrupted sleep aggravates depression – it’s a two-way relationship,” says Hillman.
“In addition, a previous study from the Centre for Obesity Research and Education at the Alfred Hospital in Melbourne found a strong link to the two. When a study group of patients who were excessively sleepy presented for obesity surgery, factors like depression and a poor quality of life were often major contributors.”
So with today’s busy society, where does this leave us? “There is good reason to hypothesize that problems are worsening. Sleep is under more pressure from other activities than ever, and national obesity rates are increasing,” says Hillman. And besides our health and work productivity, a lack of sleep is killing Australians in more ways than one.
“Poor sleep can lead to hypertension, heart disease, diabetes, depression and pro-inflammatory changes as well as car and work related accidents and productivity loss,” says Hillman.
“Currently the financial cost of sleep disorders is costing the Australian community over $5 billion annually. And it’s likely higher if you take into account the additional poor sleep of those with lifestyles that don’t allow sleep to be a priority.”
The moral of this story? If feeling zonked isn’t an option – prioritise shut eye, get your 30 mins exercise a day in and dose up on fruit and veg if you want to be healthy, happy and more importantly, awake. Easy, huh?
Note: If you are concerned whether your daytime drowsiness could be linked to weight or depression, see your local doctor for further advice.
Also, if you’re interested in participating in a weight loss trial, please see www.metabolictrial.com for more details.
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