How Getting Enough Sleep Can Help with Weight Loss
From keto to lifting, you might feel more bombarded with weight loss advertisements on social media and websites than ever. A new diet or workout plan promises to help you shed those extra pounds every day. And while some may be perfectly safe and work for a select few, many of these programs could be more effective and sustainable. Interestingly, researchers suggest that the key to weight loss may not only be related to moving more or eating less — it’s actually about getting enough sleep.¹
The Science Behind Sleep and Weight Loss
The results are consistent across studies conducted with various age groups across different locations over the past decade. One prominent longitudinal sleep study followed 68,000+ middle-aged women over 16 years. The researchers found that over this timespan, women who slept for 5 hours or less per night put on 1.14 kg more than those who got 7 hours of sleep each night over 16 years. The women who slept 6 hours per night also gained 0.71 kg more than those in the 7-hour category.²
Another study found that sleeping more can also affect the type of weight that you lose. The randomized crossover trial published in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that people who slept for 8.5 hours per night burned more fat than those who slept for 5.5 hours per night (even though both groups lost the same amount of weight on average). Interestingly, both groups had the same calorie-restriction diet.³
How Sleep Helps with Weight Loss
As your body rests, it goes through various physiological changes related to metabolism and hunger. Here’s how getting enough sleep at night may help you to maintain a healthy weight:⁴
Sleep Influences Your Hunger Hormones
Sleep plays an essential role in regulating appetite by affecting the levels of two hormones in your body: leptin and ghrelin. Fat cells produce leptin and signal the brain when you are full. On the other hand, ghrelin is made by the stomach and signals the brain when you are hungry. Studies have shown that when sleep deprived, our bodies produce more ghrelin and less leptin. This leads to increased hunger and cravings.⁵ ⁶
The stress hormone cortisol also increases when you don’t get enough sleep, leading to increased appetite and cravings for high-fat and high-sugar foods.⁷ Therefore, having difficulty limiting what you eat while sleep-deprived isn’t just a matter of a lack of willpower. There are physiological changes also driving you to eat more.
Sleep May Help Reduce Your Calorie Intake During the Day
Achieving weight loss is commonly explained through energy balance — ensuring the number of calories going into our body (eating) is less than the calories we use (exercise). A recent randomized clinical trial demonstrated that participants could reduce the calorie intake aspect of this energy balance by sleeping a healthy number of hours each night (about 7–9 hours).
The study published in JAMA Internal Medicine involved 80 overweight adults who regularly slept less than 6.5 hours a night. Some entered a sleep intervention group. Through sleep hygiene counseling provided by the research team, the participants in this group extended their sleep duration by about 1.2 hours per night. In contrast, the control group resumed their regular sleep schedules.
Interestingly, those in the intervention group got more rest each night and were able to lower their caloric intake (by about 270 calories a day) compared to the control group. This finding was significant because it showed that you might reduce the calories you consume simply by getting adequate sleep. Also, participants made no changes to diet or activity habits.⁸ ⁹
Sleep Helps You Make Better Food Choices
It’s well-established that lack of sleep can impair decision-making. So when it comes to making choices about food, you might listen to cravings or opt for high-sugar foods when tired.¹⁰ ¹¹ Being sleep-deprived also means you have more awake hours, opening up more opportunities for unhealthy eating behaviors.
Interestingly, catching up on sleep over the weekend doesn’t make things better. The study which demonstrated this compared three different sleep groups:
– Group 1: Participants were consistently sleep deprived (sleeping 5 hours a night).
– Group 2: Participants slept 5 hours on the weekdays plus two days of recovery sleep on the weekends.
– Group 3: Participants had consistent 9-hour sleep blocks.
They found that the first and second groups were more likely to eat after dinner. Furthermore, their average body weight also increased compared to Group 3.¹² ¹³
Sleep Changes How Your Brain Reacts to Food