Every Thursday, Laboratory Equipment features a Scientist of the Week, chosen from the science industry’s latest headlines. This week’s scientist is Dr. Charles Elder, MD, from the Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research. Elder's study found that people trying to lose at least 10 pounds were more likely to reach that goal if they had lower stress levels and slept more than six but not more than eight hours a night.
Q: What drove you to study the link between stress, sleep and weight loss?
A: There are very few studies that look at the factors that help predict weight loss in a controlled clinical trial. We know that eating fewer calories and exercising more will help people lose weight, but we wanted to know what other factors would help. We also looked at depression and screen time, but found that they did not predict how much weight people lost.
Q: How did you determine the sleep suggestion of no less than six hours, but no more than eight?
A: We didn’t determine that amount of time, the participants in the study told us how much they were sleeping and we found that those who slept more than six, but not more than eight hours were the most successful at losing weight. Of course individuals might differ on how much sleep they need, but this study included nearly 500 people, and that is enough to determine that 6-8 hours of sleep is a good goal for most people who want to lose weight.
Q: Why do you feel this research is important to your field of study, and beyond?
A: Nearly two-thirds of Americans are overweight or obese and many of us are trying to lose weight. So often weight loss programs focus on eating less and exercising more, but it might be a good idea to focus some on stress and sleep as well. Our study finds that if people get the right amount of sleep and reduce their stress they might be more successful in a weight loss program.
Q: What was the most surprising thing you found in your research?
A: We have known that there are associations between stress, sleep, and obesity, but it was surprising to see that baseline stress and sleep levels predicted success in the weight loss program.
Q: What is the “take home message” of your research and results?
A: Our study found that reducing stress and getting the right amount of sleep (more than six, but not more than eight) may help people lose weight.
Q: What is next for you and your research?
A: This study is part of a 2-phase clinical trial. The first phase focused on weight loss, and those are the results we reported in this paper. The second phase focuses on weight maintenance, or keeping the weight off. In that phase, we compared traditional weight loss techniques including weekly support meetings, to a complementary therapy called TAPAS acupressure. Results of that study should be available by next year. Sometime in the future we would also like to conduct a study that employs some techniques to help reduce stress and improve sleep to see if these techniques can help people lose more weight.