How Pandemic-Related Sleep Loss Can Result in Weight Gain
April 01, 2021
Are you sleeping well during the COVID-19 pandemic? Chances are, the answer is 'no.' With so many adults working from home and kids doing online learning, ordinary routines have become disrupted, leading to poorer sleep. In fact, the pandemic may leave you feeling as though you're not “working from home,”but rather “living at work.”
“The trend I'm seeing in patients is that they have a very altered schedule because of the pandemic," says Eric Yeh, MD, a sleep medicine specialist at UH. “This costs us in the ability to sleep at night, which leads to frustration, anger and sometimes even depression.”
Sleep and Your Weight
Beyond the impact on mood, disrupted sleep may also be having other noticeable effects on your health – namely, your weight.
“Sleep itself is an important part of our overall metabolism,” Dr. Yeh says. “If you don't sleep well, you are not going to metabolize well, and if you don't metabolize well, you most likely are going to gain weight.”
The weight gain from disrupted sleep can also come from another source – getting out of bed and eating when you wake up in the middle of the night. “This just compounds the problem of weight gain,” Dr. Yeh says. “It can become a vicious cycle – we need to find some way to break it.”
How Structure Can Help
To remedy the effects of pandemic-induced sleep disruption, Dr. Yeh suggests re-establishing a structured schedule for yourself and your family, starting with the time you wake up each day. It should not vary very much from day to day, he says.
“This is more important than even going to bed at the same time each night,” he says. “However, in order to establish a set bedtime, it's easier to enforce the wake time than to force yourself to go to sleep. We always say, 'Let sleep come to you, don't chase sleep.' ”
Also as part of your newly structured schedule, set specific meal times.
“Make a dedicated effort to have a specific mealtime every night,” Dr. Yeh says. “Even that little change may turn everybody's life around.”
What you eat matters, too. The standard advice is to avoid heavy, spicy or sugary foods four to six hours before bedtime and stop eating entirely at least two to three hours before you go to bed.
However, recent research suggests there may be even more to it than that. Some studies have shown that people who eat a diet that's high in sugar, saturated fat and processed carbohydrates tend to have disrupted sleep, while those who eat a diet that includes plants, fiber and foods rich in unsaturated fat — such as nuts, olive oil, fish and avocados — tend to sleep better.
By re-establishing a set routine that includes regular, healthy meals, whether on your own or for your entire family, you'll likely be on the path to getting the sleep that you need.
The best sleep occurs after a relaxing bedtime routine in a dark, quiet, cool, distraction-free environment – no TV, phones or devices an hour before bedtime. Try setting an alarm on your phone to remind yourself it's time to wind down. Regular exercise is also very important to good sleep.
Sleep disorder doctors at University Hospitals work hand-in-hand with our pulmonary specialists, heart doctors, ENTs, neurologists and psychologists to evaluate patients’ sleep struggles and restore them to good, solid rest. Learn more about pulmonary and sleep services at University Hospitals.