Sleeping Less Is Linked To Obesity In Older Adults

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Plenty of studies have noted that in younger people there is an association between sleeping less and gaining weight. What do studies show in older adults? Do the sleeping troubles of older people contribute to weight gain?

Obesity is just as prevalent in older people, a population that is also likely to have difficulty sleeping. A 2008 study at the University of California, San Francisco collected and compared the sleeping durations and BMIs of older people.

Sleeping Less Causes Obesity - The Study

  • The researchers took data from 3055 men and 3052 women. The men’s sleep was measured for an average of 5 nights and the women’s sleep was measured for an average of 4 nights.
  • The participants wore wrist actigraphs to measure how much they moved during the night. Because an actigraph measures sleeping and waking periods throughout the night, it’s more accurate than asking participants to count up the hours spent in bed.

  • The participants who slept 5 or fewer hours a night had a higher BMI than those who slept for 7-8 hours a night. Men were 3.7 times more likely to be obese and women were 2.3 times more likely to be obese.

Shorter Sleep Associated with More Body Fat
The researchers found that those who slept less had higher BMIs and an increased percentage of body fat. The increased body fat was mostly around the abdomen, the location most associated with diabetes and heart problems. Men were more likely to show an association between short sleep and obesity than women were.

The association is also probably more accurate than those shown by other studies, because it is among the first to accurately measure the duration of sleep. Most other studies have asked participants to tell researchers how much they sleep, which is not a reliable measurement. Unlike actigraphy devices, respondents often don’t account for the half-awake tossing and turning that occurs more frequently with increasing age.

Sleep and Older Adults

Many people find it more difficult to lose weight as they get older. While it’s generally accepted that everyone’s metabolism slows over the years, age-related sleeping problems could also be partly to blame for the inches that creep onto the waistlines of older adults. There’s plenty of concern about busy professionals getting enough sleep, but the effects of sleeplessness on older adults could be even more detrimental.

Diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease, conditions that are caused or worsened by obesity, tend to occur with advanced age. Obesity is no more frequent in older adults than it is in the rest of the adult population, but older adults are already more vulnerable to its resulting health problems. Addressing the sleeping problems that accompany age could go a long way toward improving the health of older adults.

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