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The Association Between Body Mass Index (BMI) and Sleep Duration: Where Are We after nearly Two Decades of Epidemiological Research?

Abstract: Over the past twenty years we have seen a vast number of epidemiological studies emerge on the topic of obesity and sleep duration, with a focus on body mass index, as it is easy and cheap to measure and analyse. Such studies largely observe that cross-sectionally a higher BMI is associated with shorter sleep and that in longitudinal studies shorter sleep duration is associated with increases in BMI over time, but some research has found no relationship between the two. This narrative review is not exhaustive, but appraises the literature on sleep duration and BMI from perspectives that have previously been unexplored in a single paper. As such, I discuss research in these important areas: bidirectionality, objective vs. subjective sleep duration, how meaningful the effect sizes are and how we have begun to address causality in this area. From the evidence appraised in this review, it is clear that: (i) there is some modest evidence of a bidirectional relationship between BMI and sleep duration in both children and adults; (ii) objective measurements of sleep should be used where possible; (iii) it remains difficult to confirm whether the effect sizes are conclusively meaningful in a clinical setting, but at least in adults this so far seems unlikely; (iv) to date, there is no solid evidence that this relationship (in either direction) is in fact causal. In the near future, I would like to see triangulation of these findings and perhaps a move towards focusing on distinct aspects of the relationship between obesity and sleep that have not previously been addressed in detail, for various reasons.
Keywords: causality / epidemiology / obesity / body mass index / Sleep duration

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