The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the world and our lives in so many ways, and for so many of us, this time that was largely spent at home staying safe also meant indulging in comfort foods. As a result of this, many Americans have gained weight over the last year. One study of 3,000 Americans done by the American Psychological Association found that 61 percent of respondents had an unwanted weight change during COVID.
The thing is, yes, our bodies may have changed in ways we didn’t want them to, but the most important thing to remember is that our bodies also got us through a global pandemic, and that’s something to be grateful for. But with the new working-from-home lifestyle, elevated stress levels, and gym closures that we all faced during the pandemic, it means that some have put on a few pounds. Other than the extra weight being an annoyance, it can also lead to other lifestyle hiccups, like sleep, for instance. Weight fluctuations, believe it or not, can affect your sleep hygiene, so it’s important to understand how weight, stress, and sleep go hand in hand (in hand), so you can make sure you’re still getting enough sleep at night, even with a change in lifestyle and health.
If you’ve found that you’ve recently experienced a change in weight and your sleep has been affected as a result of it (or if you just want some assistance in finding better sleep), we’ve put together a guide on understanding your new body and how it can affect the rest of your lifestyle.
The Pandemic’s Negative Effects on Weight Gain and Healthy Sleep
The COVID-19 pandemic, to put it simply, has been awful. Not only has it had a huge, negative impact on the world as a whole, but it’s been incredibly stressful (and dangerous) for people everywhere. This stress over the past year has had a direct result on your sleep, whether you’ve realized it or not. Dubbed “coronasomnia,” this COVID-related sleeplessness has been difficult to battle, but stress is only one factor here.
Stress is actually related to why so many people have gained weight over the last year, along with lack of activity. While we were all playing it safe by staying home to avoid getting sick, many of us were also not moving very much. Suddenly many people are working from home and falling into a totally different lifestyle from what they were used to.
The APA survey found that the average amount of weight gain over the last year was 29 pounds, but answers varied greatly. The survey also asked about how the pandemic affected mental health, and many said they felt a negative impact. When your mental health suffers, so much can go right along with it, including your physical health. During this time, when there was so much uncertainty, many found comfort in things like food or curling up on the couch with Netflix. While those might provide immediate comfort, it also leads to weight gain, which can have further negative effects on your body.
Other pandemic habits that could have negatively affected your weight include:
- Your work-from-home lifestyle: Working from home means you aren’t getting any movement you might have gotten from a commute. Even if you drive to and from work, you aren’t getting up in the morning and doing a morning routine, walking to your car, walking into work, and reversing it at the end of the day. A WFH lifestyle has been appealing for many because you got time back in your day, but it also meant less activity.
- Being stuck indoors: For many people, their activity was an outdoor thing. For much of the last year, we’ve been staying indoors, which cut out outdoor activities that increased exercise. As the virus started to wane, people were able to get outside more and more, but that was only after several months of staying inside. The benefits of being outdoors are not only great for physical health but mental health, as well.
- Gym closures: Gyms and fitness centers were closed for a long time, and if that was your only way of working out, you might have lost out on your exercise time. Not everyone has the space or means to work out at home, so maybe you took a break from calorie-burning. That’s okay!
Many things could have gone into your weight gain over the past year, and, again, the most important thing to remember right now is that you’re here, you’ve made it through this pandemic, and you want to live a healthy lifestyle, and that means making sure you’re paying attention to your sleep hygiene, even with a little bit of extra weight on you. Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered on everything you need to know.
How Weight Gain Can Impact Your Ability to Sleep
An unfortunate side effect of gaining weight is disrupted sleep. It can happen for a variety of reasons, but many of these factors can be tied back to a change in your weight. Just like other factors in your life can affect how you sleep at night, a change in your body in any form definitely can. Here’s a look at how weight affects your sleep hygiene.
Sleep apnea is what occurs when you momentarily stop breathing while you’re asleep. Studies have shown that sleep apnea can occur for a number of reasons, one of which is an elevated weight. If you’re an older man, you’re also at a higher risk for sleep apnea, and weight gain can only make you more at risk for this sleep disorder. Sleep apnea can be very dangerous if left untreated, so if you have any suspicion that you’re dealing with this (snoring, insomnia, and morning headaches are all symptoms), check with your doctor for treatment.
Discomfort while sleeping
If you’ve put on a significant amount of weight, you might feel uncomfortable while sleeping. This can be from added strain on your body from the extra weight. Your joints probably aren’t used to some extra weight on them, and that can make you uncomfortable while you’re sleeping. If you’re not comfortable, you won’t sleep well. One way to combat this is with a more comfortable sleeping environment, like with a better mattress and supportive pillows.
This is a vicious cycle. The pandemic has certainly added stress to your life, which may have contributed to your weight gain, and the stress and weight gain can make it more difficult to sleep at night. Without a good night of sleep, you’re more likely to make poor food choices during the day and be more stressed because you’re tired, continuing the cycle. Stress wreaks so much havoc on your sleep patterns, so it’s important to do whatever you can to cut back on stress in the way that works best for you.
A way to target all of these sleep issues is, of course, to work toward a healthy weight goal, but we know that’s easier said than done and not necessarily a priority for everyone. Studies have shown that a decrease in belly fat is linked to better sleep, but it’s virtually impossible to target belly fat when working out or eating healthy. While you can tone certain muscles with weight lifting, you can’t reduce fat on your body. So if you want to reduce belly fat, you simply have to eat healthily and exercise — the fat will come off everywhere, including your belly.
Your weight also factors into your Body Mass Index (BMI), and while this metric is often viewed as wildly outdated and irrelevant, studies have analyzed how it equates to sleep patterns. One study showed that people who had a lower BMI slept longer hours than those with a higher BMI. A healthy BMI range is considered to be about 18.5 to 25. While it can be a goal to aim for what is considered a healthy BMI on the scale, your better bet is to either consult your own healthcare provider on what a healthy weight is for you or simply work toward a level of health that is attainable and maintainable.
Tips for Achieving Better Sleep
No matter what your concern, there are always ways to improve your sleeping habits. It may take some trial and error to figure out what tips will work for you, but good sleep is worth the effort. Here are a few things you can try.
Set a consistent bedtime
This is one of the best things you can do to improve sleep. Create a routine for yourself that starts with bedtime preparation. Maybe it includes a warm bath, and maybe it includes reading a few pages, maybe it includes listening to some music. All of these can help you wind down, but whatever you have to do, make sure you’re climbing into bed around the same time every night. Ideally, you want to get in bed in enough time for a complete night of sleep (depending on age, this could vary from seven to 10 hours for people over the age of 13).
Consider what time you need to wake up in the morning and work your way back from there to set your bedtime, and stick to that. This routine will help get your body in the mode for bedtime on a regular basis.
Avoid snacking before bed
While some foods can help you sleep, eating the wrong foods before bed is more of a bad idea than a good one. Some foods can lead to indigestion or prolonged wakefulness. If you’re very hungry and it’s nearing bedtime, reach for foods with natural melatonin or things that will sit well in your stomach as you’re falling asleep.
Create a den of comfort
If your bed isn’t comfortable, you won’t sleep well, plain and simple. Make sure you have a mattress that’s appropriate for your sleeping style, as well as any bells and whistles you might need. These could be mattress toppers for more comfort, pillows that better support your neck, or even an adjustable bed base to elevate you. Though these changes in your bed can come with a price tag, there are plenty of affordable options for mattresses, pillows, and accessories. For the best sleep, it’s important to create a comfortable and supportive sleeping environment.
If your weight has changed, it might make your mattress feel completely different than it used to. Different mattress constructions will hold your weight differently, and if you’re heavier, you’ll sink into the mattress more. On some mattresses, that means you have less support than you once did.
It’s important to consider your weight when shopping for a mattress and understanding how different mattresses feel for different body types. Someone who is incredibly petite will have a different sleeping experience than someone who is of average weight. If you’re on the heavier side, you want to find a mattress that will support you for a long period of time and not break down or start to sag. There are mattresses on the market designed for people of larger stature so you can be sure you’re getting a supportive night of quality sleep. In general, these mattresses are hybrids made with coils or innersprings. Foam mattresses don’t provide proper support for larger people, which is why looking for a mattress with a spring or coil core is a better option.
If you’re struggling with sleep and think changing your mattress could help, it’s worth looking into a properly supportive mattress for your sleeping style or even your weight.
Consider the season
The time of year can absolutely affect how well you sleep. If it’s cold season, that can make it harder to breathe or sleep comfortably during the night. If it’s allergy season, you might also have a hard time breathing at night. While it can be tricky to really do much about something like a cold or allergies, it’s worth keeping them in mind if insomnia is knocking at your door. Do what you can to remedy any of these seasonal annoyances, like by using a humidifier or dehumidifier (depending on your concern) while you sleep or adding some melatonin into your bedtime routine to make sleeping easier.
Yes, exercise will definitely help you sleep. You can look at it in a few different ways. One, exercise can be a great stress relief, and less stress usually means better sleep. Exercise also, quite simply, makes you tired. (Though you don’t want to exercise right before bed because your body doesn’t have enough time to cool down and head into the proper circadian rhythm.) Exercising during the day raises your heart rate and encourages the release of melatonin into the body, keeping your circadian rhythm running smoothly — which all contribute to a restful night of sleep.
And of course, we know exercise is a great way to burn off some calories, which can be helpful if you’re carrying a little extra weight that you don’t want. It doesn’t take much to get your heart rate up and break a sweat. Even a simple walk each day is beneficial for all these factors that contribute to better sleep.
Cut the screens
Ditch your phones, TVs, and tablets before bedtime. Though it’s not a big deal to use your gadgets earlier in the evening, once you get in bed, you should put them away or turn them off. The harsh light makes it harder to sleep, and we all know how addicting it can be to continuously scroll through social media. Put them away when you get in bed and reset your mind for sleep instead.
The most important thing you can remember from all of this is that your body got you through a pandemic. So maybe it looks a little different today than it did a year ago. Bodies change all the time, and you have to give yourself a little bit of grace. Though weight fluctuations can affect your lifestyle, including your sleep hygiene, it’s a manageable concern that you can definitely get through. You’re still here, and you’re open to finding ways to make changes. That’s what matters.