People who regularly have good, uninterrupted sleep fare better when it comes to sticking to exercise and weight loss plans, new research has shown.

The study participants took part in a 12-month weight loss programme while a team of researchers looked at whether sleep was linked to how well they stayed on track with the lifestyle changes required by the programme.

Dr Christopher E. Kline, an associate professor in health and human development at the University of Pittsburgh, said: “Focusing on obtaining good sleep – seven to nine hours at night with a regular wake time along with waking refreshed and being alert throughout the day – may be an important behaviour that helps people stick with their physical activity and dietary modification goals.

“A previous study of ours reported that better sleep health was associated with a significantly greater loss of body weight and fat among participants in a year-long, behavioural weight loss programme.”

The study group was made up of 125 adults, most of whom were female, with an average age of 50 and who were classed as overweight or obese.

Their sleep quality was measured through questionnaires, a sleep diary and readings taken from a device worn on the wrist, with each participant given a score based on things like alertness, regularity and timing.

How well the participants stuck to their weight-loss programme was measured by the number of group sessions attended, daily calorie intake and changes in physical activity, with researchers finding that better sleep was linked to improvements in these areas.

Their key findings included:

  • Participants attended 79% of group sessions in the first half of the programme and 62% of the sessions in the second half of the year
  • In the first six months, participants met their daily calorie intake goals on 36% of days and 21% in the second half of the programme.

The team said a drop in group attendance and exercise in the second half of the programme was to be expected.

Dr Kline said: “We had hypothesised 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 optimising sleep may lead to better lifestyle modification adherence.

“One question of interest for future research is whether we can increase adherence to lifestyle modifications – and, ultimately, increase weight loss – if we improve a person’s sleep health.”

Dr Michael A. Grandner, is director of the Sleep and Heath Research Program at the University of Arizona, said: “This was a great example showing how sleep isn’t just tied to weight itself, it’s tied to the things we’re doing to help manage our own weight. This could be because sleep impacts the things that drive hunger and cravings, your metabolism and your ability to regulate metabolism and the ability to make healthy choices in general.

“Studies like this really go to show that all of these things are connected, and sometimes sleep is the thing that we can start taking control over that can help open doors to other avenues of health.”

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