Sleep, Obesity, Depression

Copyright: studiostoks / 123RF Stock Photo

SOD’s law

Let us assume that there is a (somewhat) lawful relationship between Sleep, Obesity, and Depression, and let us call it SOD’s law.

Apologies to whomever this belongs to. Google Images was no help in finding you. I can only credit my partner for sending it to me.

My history (briefly)

I have experienced what has come to be called High-Functioning Depression for at least the last three years, but probably longer. I have also struggled with my weight for much of my adult life. I’ve certainly never been the 83kgs (185 lbs) that would (just) have put me in the healthy weight category. Equally, I’ve seldom looked anything more than (just) overweight, when in fact the BMI scale has always said I’m obese (even when I looked the least overweight).

Sleep Apnœa

Yes, I like diphthongs and digraphs, I think they look prettier than when replaced with the Anglicized ‘e’, as in apnea… but accessing the proper diphthong is time consuming, so I just go with the semi-Anglicized ‘apnoea’. I’m sure George Michæl would be proud (he actually did sometimes stylize his name that way, see below).

Image taken from: The Vinylology


My diet has never been terrible, but — even coupled with a fairly active lifestyle — my weight was always stubbornly resistant to change. The thing is, I’ve never been in to sweet stuff, except for the very occasional slice of cheesecake, or carrot cake (I’m not a chocolate fan). My weaknesses have always been protein-based. At a buffet I’m more likely to have seconds from the seafood and salads section than to head for the desserts.


I finally sought help for my depression in the last year of Uni (which I was attending as an adult student). It was probably my procrastination seeking something for me to do that was not my dissertation. In reality, my mother had expressed concern about the possibility of depression for at least a few years prior, so it made sense to actively do something about it.

“For over two decades clinical studies have been conducted which suggest the existence of a relationship between depression and Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA).”[3]

And then another:

Impaired Fasting Glycaemia

Here’s what have to say about Impaired Fasting Glycemia (IFG), aka pre-diabetes/metabolic syndrome[6] (paraphrased):

“The relationship between sleep-disordered breathing and impaired glucose-insulin metabolism is independent of obesity and age.”

This paper was published 15 years ago!


Most of the reading and research noted above took place in the last few months. So, rewinding a bit…

Lunch on the day I wrote this.


Right at the start of this piece I mentioned that, in order to be just inside the healthy weight range for my height (183cms, six foot) I’d need to be 83kgs (185 lbs). Throughout all of the above changes to activity and diet my weight remained resolutely around 112 kgs (248 lbs). Then I thought about Impaired Fasting Glucose and this idea that my crappy sleep quality was screwing with my blood glucose in the mornings.


Anyway, I have been doing this for a mere two and half weeks. And I have lost five kilos (11 lbs)! It would probably have been more, but I indulged in a large tub of popcorn when I went to see Deadpool 2, last night.

Plot twist

The major unexpected benefit of intermittent fasting, and one that I really hadn’t seen discussed that much, despite being part of the science, has been a major improvement in mood.

“Many clinical observations relate an early (between day 2 and day 7) effect of fasting on depressive symptoms with an improvement in mood, alertness and a sense of tranquility reported by patients.”[8]

Of course, now that I know this, I can see it mentioned all over the blogosphere :-/

SOD’s Law revisited

  1. If sleep is the thing you’re trying to deal with, remember it may be a symptom, not the problem:
    a. Obesity can impact on your sleep quality.
    b. Depression, especially intrusive ruminative thoughts, can make getting to sleep difficult.
  2. If obesity is the thing you’re trying to deal with, remember it may be a symptom, not the problem:
    a. Sleep can change the way your body deals with food, especially glucose levels in the morning.
    b. Depression can lead to food-related problems, and makes even contemplating exercise difficult.
  3. If depression is the thing you’re trying to deal with, remember it may be a symptom, not the problem:
    a. Sleep can help with the mental clarity and focus that depression inhibits.
    b. Obesity can make engaging in depression-lifting behaviours more difficult to engage in, and can be a focus for depressive self-criticism.
Copyright: studiostoks / 123RF Stock Photo

Boring but necessary notes of caution

That last quote does come with the proviso that “The persistence of mood improvement over time remains to be determined.”


[1] Jefferson, Y. (2010). Mouth breathing: adverse effects on facial growth, health, academics, and behavior. Gen Dent, 58(1), 18–25.



Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Alan Duval, MBPsS

Alan Duval, MBPsS

Psychology graduate with interests in values and morality, cognition and executive function, and High Functioning Depression. Kiwi living in London, UK.