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You might not be familiar with the term “weight cycling”, but this phenomenon can give you sleepless nights. Simply put, weight cycling is when you gain weight and then lose it over and over again. But when this cycle of losing and regaining weight crosses the threshold of 10 pounds or 4.5 kilos—it tends to put women at the risk of sleep problems.
According to a study published in the Journal of Cardiovascular Nursing—the official journal of the Preventive Cardiovascular Nurses Association—women with a history of weight have increased rates of insomnia
Says Dr Brooke Aggarwal, EdD, MS, FAHA, of Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons, New York, and colleagues:
History of weight cycling was prospectively associated with several measures of poor sleep, including short sleep duration, worse sleep quality, greater insomnia, greater sleep disturbances, and greater daytime dysfunction
The researchers analyzed data on 506 women, average age 37 years, enrolled in an ongoing American Heart Association-funded “Go Red for Women” research project. The women represented every stage of adult life, including childbearing, premenopausal, menopausal, and postmenopausal.
Seventy-two per cent of the women reported one or more episodes of weight cycling, (excluding pregnancy). History of weight cycling was evaluated for associations with a wide range of sleep problems, both at the time of study entry and at a one-year follow-up visit. The analyses adjusted for other factors known to affect women’s weight history, including pregnancy history and menopausal status.
At both times, sleep problems were more likely for women with any history of weight cycling. Each additional episode of weight cycling was associated with shorter sleep time, poorer sleep quality, long time to fall asleep, more severe insomnia, more sleep disturbances, less efficient sleep, and more frequent use of sleep medications.
History of weight issues also predicted an increased risk of sleep problems at follow-up. After adjustment for other factors, women with even a single episode of weight cycling were at higher risk of shorter sleep duration (less than seven hours), lower scores for sleep quality and efficiency, and longer time to fall asleep (about half an hour or more).
Women with episodes of weight fluctuations were also five times more likely to score in the high-risk range for developing obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA). Patients with OSA have interruptions or other abnormalities of breathing during sleep. Obstructive sleep apnea is an important risk factor for serious health problems, including heart disease and stroke.
Being overweight or obese is a known risk factor for sleep problems. In previous studies in their “Go Red for Women” research cohort at Columbia University, Dr Aggarwal and colleagues found that women with a history of weight cycling had increased odds of poor cardiovascular health. The relationship between weight cycling and sleep problems may be “bidirectional” – reflecting the “intricate interplay” between sleep and weight loss/weight maintenance.
The researchers emphasize the need for further studies of how body weight changes across the life span may affect sleep, in men as well as women and across racial/ethnic groups. In the meantime, asking women about their history of weight cycling might be helpful in identifying their risk for sleep problems, including OSA.
The findings also suggest that maintaining a stable body weight over time might promote better quality sleep. Dr Aggarwal and coauthors conclude, “Future research can potentially inform more targeted weight maintenance interventions for sleep health and cardiovascular health promotion.”