Maybe the reason you are overweight is because of poor sleep. When you are not getting enough restorative sleep then your body produces more of the hormone that increases your appetite and less of the hormone that decreases your appetite. Your body’s message to your brain is very simple: if you aren’t going to let me rest then you’ve got to give me more fuel to keep me going.
This simple fact has become all the rage these days, to the point where women’s magazines are running articles about women who have lost fifteen pounds simply by going to bed earlier each night, and you don’t have to go to bed a whole lot earlier, either. Fifteen or twenty minutes may be enough to do it. Are you one of those people who can eat sensibly all day but then you completely lose it at night? You’ll eat anything that doesn’t actually have a skull and crossbones on the label? You’re not hungry—you’re tired. Go to bed. Do you sit on the couch watching television and snacking? You’re tired—go to bed.
But there’s another group of people who are struggling against the inappropriate moralism of the medical profession—people with sleep disorders. Sleep doctors have long known that weight gain correlates with exacerbation of sleep apnea. Obstructive sleep apnea is the condition where your breathing passage collapses causing you to stop breathing, which in turn causes you to rouse slightly so that you start breathing again. According to sleep doctors, you’re an undisciplined pig who eats too much thereby causing your apnea to get worse.
They are wrong. Once again, they have reversed cause with effect. Most people are not gorging themselves just for the heck of it. They are eating because they’re driven to it by the increased hormone production caused by poor sleep. The sleep thing goes bad first and the eating is a consequence.
If you have hypertension or diabetes or respiratory problems then every time you turn around somebody is throwing a blood pressure cuff on you or checking you sugar level or coming at you with a stethoscope. If you have any of these chronic conditions then you’re getting checked every time you go to the doctor, dentist, urgent care or school nurse. However, if you have sleep apnea then you get diagnosed and put on a CPAP—continuous positive air pressure machine—and that’s the end of it.
You can go ten years without being put through a sleep laboratory to see if you’re respiratory needs have changed. But if you go back to your sleep doctor complaining of problems, the first thing he’s going to do is tell you that you’ve gained twenty pounds. The unspoken condemnation is: it’s your fault that your sleep problem is worse. Fact is, your need to have your CPAP reset may have been going on for years but nobody’s checked and, hey, you’re asleep—what do you know?
One of the leading sleep doctors in Syracuse happens to be a guy who has Asperger’s syndrome, which is a mild form of autism combined with a superior intellect. Autism is a condition wherein you can’t tell the difference between having a pet rock and having a best friend of the human sort. People with autism have an impaired ability to empathize with other people. So this doctor had a patient who failed to keep her scheduled appointments because he kept giving her a hard time about her weight and telling her she had to lose some. The woman had multiple sclerosis and was in a wheelchair—how was she supposed to exercise? And the whole premise was the doctor’s problem: he was treating her as a glutton, that is, a person who was morally deficient. In fact, he was failing to effectively manage her sleep problems, thus causing increased production of the hormone that drove her to eat.
All these little insights come to you courtesy of my visit with Dr. Nasri Ghaly today. I arrived at his office, where he was bent over the reception counter perusing his computer. He looked up, saw me, and said, “Oh! Is something I must show you!” Dr. Ghaly began his career as a practitioner of rural medicine, then became a psychiatrist. Now he’s studying for his board examination to become a sleep specialist, too, and in the course of his studies he came across data that says clear and simple that poor sleep impacts the immune system. Ah-ha, did I tell you, or what?! He immediately thought of me.
I have spent a decade not sleeping because I had to get up every two hours to go to the bathroom, and I have spent that same decade trying to find an immunologist to figure out why I am hypersensitive to all medications. Do we think that maybe the two things are related? Do we think just maybe?
Dr. Ghaly reported to me that poor sleep also causes weight gain, and elevated blood pressure and blood glucose levels. Yeah, tell me about it. When I was in the hospital a month ago, my glucose levels were as high as 475. Two of the things that raise blood sugar levels are diet and stress. St. Joseph’s Hospital serves cold, dead canned/frozen vegetables in the middle of the growing season, and sends strangers into your room every four hours to lay hands on you. At home, with an indwelling catheter so I can get some sleep, and lots of peaches, cabbage, lettuce, raspberries, beans, corn, watermelon, tomatoes, potatoes, cantaloupe, zucchini and beets, my glucose is down to 190. And my blood pressure has been steadily dropping since I got home and started sleeping.
And the dorkhead doctors say that a catheter isn’t medically necessary, i.e. you don’t need sleep; you need pills. Hippocrates said “Leave your drugs in the chemist’s pot if you can cure the patient with food.”