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Good Sleep Helps You Stick to Exercise and Diet Goals

By Jiri Kaloc

People who consistently get good sleep tend to stick to their exercise and diet plans better while trying to lose weight, says preliminary research presented at the American Heart Association’s Epidemiology, Prevention, Lifestyle & Cardiometabolic Health Scientific Sessions 2023.

The researchers found that proper sleep may be an essential factor in helping people maintain their physical activity and dietary goals. The study examined 125 adults who were overweight or obese but without medical conditions that would require supervision of their diet or physical activity. Their sleep habits were assessed throughout a 12-month weight-loss programme using questionnaires, sleep diaries, and a wearable device, which also recorded activity.

Better sleep means a better diet and more exercise

Adherence to the weight-loss programme was measured by attendance at group sessions, how well they followed their daily calorie-intake goals, and by changes in daily moderate or vigorous physical activity. After adjusting for factors like age, gender, race, and whether they shared a bed, the researchers found that better sleep was associated with higher adherence to all these aspects of the weight loss program.

  • Participants attended 79% of group sessions in the first 6 months and 62% of group sessions in the second 6 months.
  • Participants met their daily caloric intake goals on 36% of days in the first 6 months and 21% in the second 6 months.
  • Participants increased their total daily time spent in moderate-vigorous activity by 8,7 minutes in the first 6 months but their total time spent decreased by 3,7 minutes in the second 6 months.

The decrease in the second half of the experiment was expected. “As one continues in a long-term behavioural weight loss intervention, it’s normal for the adherence to weight loss behaviours to decrease,” said Christopher E. Kline, PhD, an associate professor in the Department of Health and Human Development at the University of Pittsburgh.

Could improving sleep health provide further benefits?

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

Future research could explore whether improving a person’s sleep health could lead to better adherence to lifestyle changes and ultimately increase weight loss. It remains unclear if it’s better to optimize sleep before attempting weight loss or to do both simultaneously.

“It remains unclear whether it would be best to optimize sleep prior to rather than during attempted weight loss. In other words, should clinicians tell their patients to focus on getting better and more regular sleep before they begin to attempt weight loss or should they try to improve their sleep while at the same time modifying their diet and activity levels?” Kline said.