A Good Night’s Sleep Can Help You Maintain Diet, Exercise Goals

By David Rossiaky

Fact checked by Michael Crescione

  • Getting enough healthy sleep is associated with improved physical and mental wellbeing.
  • Likewise, unhealthy sleep habits can affect your waking behaviors and habits.
  • New research found that people who slept well were more likely to stick to other health goals.

When you think about healthy sleep, the first organization that comes to mind may not be the American Heart Association.

After all, what does sleep have to do with your heart?

Well, a lot, as it turns out. So much so that last year the association added sleep to its cardiovascular health checklist.

“When we evaluate patients for their cardiovascular health, we start every intake with an assessment of sleep,” Dr. Daniel Luger, a cardiologist and assistant professor at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, told Healthline.

That’s because sleep has far-reaching effects on our physical and mental health.

This week, researchers presented preliminary findings at the association’s Epidemiology and Prevention, Lifestyle and Cardiometabolic Health annual meeting about the benefits of sleep and how it can help you maintain other goals.

What did they find and what does it mean for you? Let’s take a look.

A ‘hypothesis generating’ study on sleep

In this study, which hasn’t been published yet in a peer-reviewed journal, a group of adults was followed for a year as they were monitored for sleep health, adherence to a weight loss program, and physical activity.

All participants were either overweight or obese, but they were all healthy enough for dietary changes and exercise.

Initial findings suggested that people who got healthy sleep were more likely to attend group weight loss sessions, achieve their calorie goals, and spend time doing moderate-vigorous exercise.

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The association was not very strong though, not meeting the threshold for statistical significance, but experts say that doesn’t mean the results aren’t useful.

“A study like this is really hypothesis generating. It suggests a general association between sleep health and adherence to diet and exercise,” said Luger.

“Given the understanding of the underlying physiology and behavioral psychology, a large study is not needed to recommend sleep hygiene practices to patients,” Luger added.

It should also be noted, however, that this was a fairly small study. There were only 125 participants, and the group was described as being 91% female and 81% white.

“Not having a diverse demographic is a significant limitation. However, the results of the study are still interesting, and many aspects of sleep physiology can be generalized across adults,” Dr. Sujay Kansagra, an associate professor of pediatrics at Duke University School of Medicine in Durham, North Carolina, told Healthline.

Dr. Alex Dimitriu, double board-certified in psychiatry and sleep medicine and founder of Menlo Park Psychiatry & Sleep Medicine in California, noted that an individual’s discipline and impulse control are a factor, too.

“It could well be that the people that have the discipline to get good sleep also have the discipline to stick to a weight loss program. It is a virtuous cycle where the discipline helps sleep and, in turn, sleep helps discipline (and weight loss),” Dimitriu told Healthline.

The benefits of healthy sleep

The preliminary findings from this study build on an existing body of research that more robustly links healthy sleep with numerous benefits.

“From a behavioral psychology perspective, lifestyle changes often build on one another. Starting with a healthy sleep routine with consistent sleep and wake time allows individuals to anchor additional health behaviors to a solid foundation of sleep,” said Luger.

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There’s also evidence that poor sleep can have detrimental effects on your health.

“Almost any medical and psychiatric condition can be worsened with poor quality sleep. We know sleep is linked to cardiovascular health, immune function, mood, attention, and energy level, just to name a few,” said Kansagra.

In relation to the study, Kansagra added, “We know that sleep deprivation causes fatigue and mood changes, which may negatively affect your willingness to exercise.”

Lia Turpin, RPSGT, a sleep technician at HSHS St. Elizabeth’s Sleep Disorders Center in O’Fallon, Illinois, told Healthline that “when our sleep health is optimal, our bodies function at a higher level, including mental and hormonal health. These have huge impacts on weight loss as well as how our bodies heal and recover from daily activities and exercise.”

Dr. Mehwish Sajid, a sleep medicine and family medicine physician at the University of Michigan Health as well as a clinical instructor of neurology and family medicine at U-M Medical School in Ann Arbor, told Healthline that sleep routines act in balance with other daily practices.

“Regular sleep allows us to fall asleep sooner, wake up more easily, and maintain alertness during the day. It also allows people to stick with regular mealtimes and routines, which can act as signals to our bodies about the time of day,” Sajid said.

How to sleep better

Knowing you need healthy sleep and actually getting it are two different things.

For most people, a few small adjustments can put you on track for a healthy routine.

“Sleep loves rhythm and space. Stick to a regular bed and wake time. Give yourself ‘space’ for sleep, with time to wind down in the evening and allowing an opportunity for up to 8 hours of sleep in bed,” said Dimitriu.

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“Unfortunately, the more people squeeze or ‘force’ sleep, the worse sleep becomes,” he added.

“Create and maintain a very calming and consistent nightly routine, such as exercise a few hours prior to bedtime, a shower or calming bath, reading, and same bedtime,” suggested Turpin.

“Eliminate all electronic devices from the bedroom, as the light does affect melatonin production and causes arousals during sleep, as well as sleep duration, sleep onset, and more sleep deficiency,” Turpin added.

“I always recommend trying to stick to the same bedtime and wake time during the week, including on the weekends,” said Sajid.

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