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Obesity and depression linked to sleepiness

19th June 2012

Obesity and depression can be major factors behind excessive daytime sleepiness, according to new research in the United States.


The US National Sleep Foundation says that around one fifth of adults in the United States have the disorder, which is often blamed on poor sleep.

According to Alexandros Vgontzas, psychiatry professor at Penn State, the strongest risk factors behind daytime tiredness were depression and obesity.

Vgontzas, who presented three studies on daytime sleepiness this week at the annual meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies in Boston, said that weight loss was a good way to regain a sense of energy during the day.

One of the studies found that dieters found themselves with more energy as they shed pounds.

Vgontzas also tracked the BMI and health conditions, including high blood pressure or depression, of 1,173 adults who weren't excessively sleepy during the day over a seven-year period.

The participants were also tested for sleep apnoea, a disorder linked to snoring in which people have episodes when they stop breathing during sleep.

Both sleep deprivation and sleep apnoea have traditionally been blamed for excessive sleepiness during the day.

During the study, 138 people, around 8%, did develop daytime sleepiness. People with depression were three times as likely to suffer from the problem, while obese people were twice as likely.

In his second study, Vgontzas found that excessive daytime sleepiness was more likely to be persistent in people with a higher BMI.

Additionally, if their daytime sleepiness persisted, such people were more likely to put on even more weight.

Vgontzas concluded that obesity and depression are significant risk factors for new-onset excessive daytime sleepiness, as well as making it hard to beat the sleepiness once it began.

In his third study, Vgontzas studied 103 overweight men and women in a sleep lab, as well as screening them for depression.

He found that those who were sleeping longer at night were also sleeping during the day, which seemed to contradict the notion that sleep deprivation was the trigger for excessive daytime sleepiness.

Among this group, depression and waist circumference were the strongest predictors of the subjects' self-reported sleepiness.

According to Alon Avidan, associate professor of neurology and director of the Sleep Disorders Center at the David Geffen School of Medicine in Los Angeles, Vgontzas' study noted weight loss in some of his patients as leading to less daytime sleepiness, a finding which accorded with his own clinical experience.

Avidan said that obese patients who underwent bariatric surgery had reported to him a decrease in their daytime sleepiness a week or two after the operation.

He said the findings were not entirely new, but provided evidence of a stronger link between BMI and daytime sleepiness.

Weight loss could reduce the risk of depression and sleep apnoea among people with high BMI measurements, as well as their risk of daytime sleepiness.

Avidan disclosed a link with pharmaceutical manufacturers Teva, which makes a treatment for excessive sleepiness called modafinil.

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