Weight loss is on many Americans’ minds, especially during the Spring and Summer months. Physical activity and eating less or eating more of the right foods are what come to mind first. Your ability to lose weight or maintain a healthy weight can be derailed by other factors too, like sleep. Not getting enough sleep to be specific, which begs the question— can sleep help you lose weight?
As you’re likely aware, obesity is a major public health threat worldwide in both children and adults. Since 1975, obesity rates have tripled.
The National Center for Health Statistics reports that 42.4 percent of American adults are obese, with 9.2 percent of them considered morbidly obese.
As obesity rates rise in the US, the number of hours Americans sleep is decreasing. There’s a direct correlation between total sleep time and/or sleep quality decreasing, and peoples’ body mass index (BMI) increasing.
This is no coincidence. The number of hours you sleep at night— paired with your quality of sleep— is vital to keeping your brain and your body healthy. This includes your weight.
You may be wondering, can sleep help you lose weight if you need to lose a few pounds? It can, but perhaps not in the ways you’d expect.
How Sleep Can Help You Lose Weight
Adequate sleep at night helps your body recover from the previous day, prepare for the next, and keep everything working as it should. Many of these nightly processes— such as hormone regulation and regulation of your metabolism— can be directly connected to your body weight.
A few ways that good sleep can help you lose weight include:
- Keeping your appetite under control and making better dietary choices
- Boosting your metabolism and keeping it functioning well
- Helping you stay physically active, and boosting your energy
Recent Study Connects Better Sleep to Weight Loss
A recent study published by JAMA Internal Medicine found that sleep can help with weight loss. More specifically, between 7 and 9 hours of sleep at night. Even more interesting, the weight loss occurred without dietary changes or new exercise routines.
The study uncovered that when participants focused on improving their sleep hygiene, they naturally reduced their energy intake— or how many calories they consumed.
Researchers discovered that participants getting more sleep ate less. Interestingly the study wasn’t designed to uncover a relationship between sleep and weight loss.
On the flip side, research also demonstrates how poor quality or insufficient sleep can make you more likely to gain weight.
Often the weight gain is slow, and because you aren’t necessarily eating more or differently. You may not even realize what’s happening in your body until you discover a few unwanted pounds the next time you step on the scale.
Often, the weight gain is never consciously connected back to your sleep, or lack of!
How Sleep Problems Can Cause Weight Gain
Sleep maintains many of your body’s vital processes and keeps them functioning properly. When you don’t get the healthy sleep you need it takes a toll on your body, including your waistline.
For many, poor quality sleep not only prevents you from losing weight but also contributes to weight gain.
Sleep Loss Reduces Self Control
One way sleep deprivation can contribute to weight gain or prevent weight loss is by reducing your self control. This is especially true regarding the foods you choose to eat.
Most people make poorer food choices when they’re sleep-deprived— even those who normally eat a healthy diet. In fact, when you’re sleep-deprived you’re more likely to eat foods high in sugar, fat, refined carbohydrates, and starches. This increased calorie intake often leads to weight gain.
Some studies suggest that the inclination to eat unhealthy foods isn’t just a result of reduced willpower. One study published by the Journal of Neuroscience discovered that even just one night of sleep deprivation can drive you to reach for unhealthy snacks. This is because sleep deprivation can lead to food-reward signals.
When you get a good night’s sleep, you’re better able to regulate your body’s hormones. This includes hormones that regulate your hunger and let you know when you’re satisfied after a meal.
Sleep Loss Creates Hormone Imbalance
Getting sufficient sleep each night helps keep your body’s hormones under control and working normally. However, sleep disruption or poor sleep can alter the production of these hormones, leading to some undesirable results, particularly when it comes to your weight.
Two hormones that sleep keeps under control are leptin and ghrelin.
Ghrelin— also known as the “hunger hormone”— stimulates your appetite, while leptin tells your body when it’s full.
Sleep loss results in reduced levels of leptin in your body, which means you’re more likely to overeat. At the same time, more ghrelin is produced, which drives you to eat more— especially all the unhealthy foods that are best consumed in moderation.
As you can imagine, this can make it very easy to gain, and harder to lose unwanted weight.
Poor sleep can also lead to metabolic dysregulation, which can cause elevated insulin resistance and blood sugar— or glucose— intolerance. Inadequate sleep can also reduce your energy levels, which can make getting enough physical activity like exercise unappealing or difficult.
If you need to lose weight— as you can see— sleep can help you lose weight in multiple ways. It’s also one of the easier ways to support your healthy weight goals.
Related: How Sleep Affects Your Hormones
How to Lose Weight With A Good Night’s Sleep
Your behavior and lifestyle are two important aspects that contribute to obesity. Although diet and exercise should never be ignored as important tools for weight loss, behavioral changes such as sleep shouldn’t be overlooked either.
Here are three tips that can help you get better sleep and support healthy weight loss.
1. Create and Stick to a Consistent Sleep Routine
Research has shown that the more consistent your sleep schedule is, the more improvement you will see in your BMI— especially if your BMI exceeds 30, the threshold for obesity.
There is a reason you create and live by a set routine for your kids— they’re always more pleasant and easier to handle if they go to bed and wake up at the same time each day. However, we often fail to tap into that same wisdom as we become adults.
Understandably there are many reasons we fail to create a consistent sleep routine in adulthood— between work, kids, and life in general, it can be tough to follow the same routine each day. But if you’re trying to lose weight, this is one of the easiest behavior modifications you can make.
A consistent sleep routine means going to bed at the same time every night and waking up at the same time every morning— including weekends.
Sleeping in or staying out late does more harm than you realize, and not just for your weight. A regular sleep routine will help strengthen your circadian rhythm, improve your overall sleep, and help you prevent a sleep debt that can make getting the good sleep you need more difficult.
2. Get the Recommended 7-9 Hours of Sleep Each Night
There are some instances where getting a full night’s sleep can be a challenge, especially if you have young children or a sleep disorder. However, sleep duration matters just as much as sleep quality does when it comes to weight loss.
Not only are people who sleep 7-9 hours able to lose weight easier than people who sleep 6 hours or less each night, but they’re also able to lose weight specifically in their waist circumference.
Abdominal fat is especially dangerous to your health because it increases your risk of metabolic and cardiovascular disease. Therefore, losing belly fat can have a big impact on your overall health.
3. Get Tested for Sleep Disorders
The World Health Organization defines obesity as a disease— this helps underscore how the issue goes beyond how a person looks, or whether they fit within society’s ideal body type standards.
Body image standards can affect you psychologically and can lead to mental health disorders like anxiety and depression, but the far more serious reality of obesity is that it’s a leading cause or contributor to other serious diseases. Among them are hypertension, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and obstructive sleep apnea.
Sleep apnea is a serious health condition that is directly connected to obesity. In fact, more than 80 percent of adult sleep apnea patients are overweight and over 50 percent of them are obese as well. To make matters more severe, a study published by the International Journal of Obesity has also found that combining obesity and sleep apnea may even contribute to some types of cancer.
However, adherence to your sleep apnea treatment protocol can help you lose weight, and weight loss can also help reduce symptoms of sleep apnea and other comorbidities.
If you think you may be at risk for sleep apnea, a few symptoms to be aware of include:
- Sleep-disordered breathing, including loud snoring, gasping, or choking during sleep
- You have a dry or sore throat in the morning
- Daytime sleepiness and fatigue
- Waking up feeling exhausted or unrested, even after a full night’s sleep
Don’t Ignore Poor Sleep or Weight Gain
Sometimes it’s hard to notice when you gain a few extra pounds, until you realize that your clothes don’t fit like they used to, you’re feeling more tired throughout the day, and it’s harder to get yourself to exercise. But remember— following close behind weight gain are health issues like diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and sleep apnea.
Poor sleep may not seem like a major culprit for those extra pounds, but getting better sleep is one of the best things you can do to maintain a healthy weight. Getting a good night’s sleep puts you one step closer to shedding any extra weight and experiencing greater overall health.
Mostly you have control over your sleep habits, but if you’re at risk for or suspect you have undiagnosed sleep apnea you could be suffering from sleep deprivation and don’t even know it.
It’s important to talk to your doctor and seek an evaluation of your symptoms, or contact our Sleep Centers of Middle Tennessee office today!
Tasali, Esra, et al. “Effect of Sleep Extension on Objectively Assessed Energy Intake Among Adults With Overweight in Real-Life Settings A Randomized Clinical Trial.” JAMA Internal Medicine, JAMA Network, 7 Feb. 2022, jamanetwork.com/journals/jamainternalmedicine/fullarticle/2788694.
Rihm, J., et al. (2019). Sleep deprivation selectively upregulates an amygdala-hypothalamic circuit involved in food reward. Journal of Neuroscience 39 (5): 888-889. Retrieved on March 3, 2020 from: https://www.jneurosci.org/content/39/5/888
Almendros, I., et al. (2020). Obesity, sleep apnea and cancer. International Journal of Obesity. Retrieved on March 4, 2020 from: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41366-020-0549-z#citeas