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Beyond weight loss: Sleep and its effects on your body

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A new study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine suggests the amount of sleep that dieters get each night may affect their weight loss. Researchers observed that dieters who slept longer saw a greater decrease in fat. Those who slept less lost more muscle weight.

But sleep affects more than the way our bodies handle weight loss. “We spend one-third of our life in sleep,” said Michael Bommarito, M.D., sleep medicine specialist at Weiss. Yet, only recently has the medical community begun seriously considering sleep disorders and their effects on the body. “The big issue is sleep, and people need to make sure they don’t have a problem with it.”

Sleep-related health problems include sleep apnea, characterized by pauses in breathing or slowing down in breathing throughout the night. Often brought on by obesity, it affects approximately 18 million people in the United States. Experts estimate that half of those people also have high blood pressure.

“Much of the hypertension that we can’t find reason for is because of sleep-disordered breathing,” Dr. Bommarito said, explaining that when the oxygen level in the body drops, it puts a strain on the heart that adds up over time. This strain exacerbates certain diseases, including diabetes and heart disease.

Experts recommend seven hours of sleep each night, though each individual is different and the amount of sleep we require changes with age. Toddlers, for example, typically need 12 hours of sleep, while pre-teens sleep between eight and 10 hours.

Symptoms of sleep-disordered breathing include loud snoring and daytime fatigue. If you suspect you have a sleep disorder, Dr. Bommarito recommends you ask your primary care physician for a sleep study and referral to a sleep specialist.

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