From sleep deprivation to obesity: Deciphering the toxic cycle impacting your quality of life

Dr. Riaz Mowjood, Resident Consultant Respiratory/Chest specialist and Head of Nawaloka Hospitals' Chest & Sleep Centre.

Before medical science advanced to what it is today, a person’s weight was a pure reflection of their level of physical activity and nutrition. Recent research suggests that body weight depends not only on behavior, but also on genetics, community, stress, overall health and even socioeconomic status. Further, it has also been revealed that body weight can also be impacted by quality of sleep and thereby the quality of life in itself.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), as of 2016, 650 million adults worldwide and over 9.2% of the Sri Lankan population were officially classified as obese. While there are numerous well known culprits consistently blamed for obesity, Dr. Riaz Mowjood, Resident Consultant Respiratory/Chest specialist and Head of Nawaloka Hospitals’ Chest & Sleep Centre, says that the lesser-known cause, sleep deprivation, rarely gets identified before it can negatively impact our health.

“Poor sleep quality has long been proven to drastically decrease the overall quality of life by forcing down daily productivity and concentration while simultaneously increasing the risk of stress and chronic conditions such as diabetes, blood pressure, strokes, premature aging, psychological pressure, and memory loss. Many patients with sleep disorders are more prone to traffic accidents and work-related accidents, particularly those operating heavy machinery. This is because the body needs and must be provided time to recuperate, regenerate and rest, and without it, our biology starts failing us,” Dr. Riaz Mowjood said.

“When you then add extra body weight to the mix, more often times than not, it further obstructs the body’s organs from resting and performing as best as it should. For example, a common issue is Obstructive Sleep Apnea, which is caused by a heavy double chin and neck fat that pushes down on the body’s small respiratory organs, narrowing the airways and constricting breathing. This leads to a condition called Obesity hypoventilation syndrome (OHS), which is a breathing disorder that results in too much carbon dioxide and too little oxygen in the blood,” he also said.

Dr. Mowjood went on to state that these conditions should be identified and treated at onset as it would otherwise upset the day to day lives of patients to such a degree that it would lead to much more dangerous implications such as psychological distress and depression, reduced overall metabolism and possibly even more weight gain.

Sleep disorders can be identified by excessive snoring, gasping or cessation of breathing during sleep, excessive sleeping during the daytime, a feeling of choking during sleep, morning headaches, a constant lack of energy, difficulty in concentration, and persisting irritability.

Dr. Ruvani Goonawardene, Physician-in-charge of the Medical Intensive Care Unit & Sleep Unit of Nawaloka Hospitals, revealed that there are several ways to diagnose sleep disorders. The first of which is through a sleep study.

“A sleep study or a Polysomnograph is a comprehensive test used to diagnose sleep disorders. It records brain waves, the oxygen level in the blood, heart rate and breathing, as well as eye and leg movements during an overnight stay at a sleep unit. ECG patterns, airflow through the nose, snoring, chin muscle activity, heart rhythm and rate and limb movements are all monitored and analysed to identify and tackle each patient’s unique condition. And it is vital to receive this diagnosis from an accredited healthcare institution, to better and accelerate the process of healing,” Dr. Ruvani Goonawardene said.

Commenting further, Dr. Goonawardene stated, “A major issue for individuals with obesity is that not only does sleep loss lead to weight gain, but being overweight also causes sleep issues, which can, in turn, worsen biological processes that contribute to weight gain. It is a frustrating and debilitating cycle, but help is available”.

To counter this toxic cycle, Dr. Goonawardena suggests maintaining good sleep hygiene is a good start. This involves setting disciplines such as a predictable sleep schedule, creating a bedtime routine, and engaging in healthy habits during the day.

However, the sleep loss-weight gain cycle can be a tricky one to break. It is therefore best to seek support from a qualified medical consultant or involve a sleep specialist. A medical professional can often provide individualized guidance about how to best incorporate these approaches into daily life.

The Nawaloka Sleep & Chest Unit, the country’s first dedicated centre for sleep and chest conditions, offers a comprehensive line-up of treatment options. This covers sleep deprivation, chest infections, bronchial asthma, wheezing, chronic obstructive lung diseases, allergies and rhinitis, smoking addiction and lung cancer, in addition to lung function assessments, general examinations of patients exhibiting a chronic cough and shortness of breath, cardiac and pulmonary rehabilitation and allergic skin prick testing.

Accredited by the prestigious Joint Commission International’s gold seal of approval for exceptional clinical outcomes, the center is fitted with world-class technology, and operated by a highly-skilled and experienced team of consultants and medical staff.