How Can Sleep Help With Weight Loss?

How Can Sleep Help With Weight Loss?

By: Melissa Young, MD • Posted on April 19, 2024

As much as people apply the commonly known basics of weight loss, with an emphasis “calories-in/calories-out” through diet and exercise, there’s a little-known facet of weight loss: getting sufficient sleep. Studies show evidence that lack of sufficient sleep is related to an increased risk of weight gain and obesity. This understanding gives us a new a tool to help people make better lifestyle choices to support a healthy weight and weight loss goals.

Researchers are finding that many biopsychosocial factors impact weight gain and obesity. Things that impact weight include: 

  • diets high in ultra-processed, high calorie foods
  • insufficient sleep
  • certain drugs
  • physical inactivity
  • stress
  • hormone disrupting chemicals
  • gastrointestinal microbiome
  • genetic variations

Are we getting enough sleep?

No! Many people do not get their 8 hours of sleep today with work, family responsibilities and the lure of social media and smart devices. One third of adults in the United States do not get enough sleep on a regular basis. Approximately 40% of adults report falling asleep during the day without meaning to at least once a month.

What is the connection between lack of sleep and weight gain? 

A 2022 Mayo Clinic article showed lack of sufficient sleep combined with free access to food increased calorie consumption leading to a 9% increase in total abdominal fat and a 11 percent increase in abdominal visceral fat compared to the control group. The participants consumed more than 300 extra calories per day during the sleep restriction. The study showed that a decrease in sleep, even in young, healthy subjects is associated with an increase in caloric intake and a significant increase in belly fat.

The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) showed significantly higher rates of obesity in adults who reported an average of less than 7 hours a night of sleep. The largest and longest study to date on adult sleep habits and weight is the Nurses Health Study. It followed 68,000 midlife American women for up to 16 years and found that compared to women who slept seven hours a night, women who slept five hours or less were 15 percent more likely to become obese.

How inadequate sleep impacts our body

Chronic lack of sufficient sleep disrupts the balance of appetite-regulating hormones leading to increased hunger and cravings. Leptin often is referred to as the “satiety hormone” as it tells your brain when you’ve had enough to eat. Ghrelin is the “hunger hormone” that signals your brain that it’s time to eat. Just a few nights of inadequate sleep can lead to decreased glucose tolerance, decreased insulin sensitivity, decreased levels of leptin and increased levels of cortisol and ghrelin. These changes in hormone levels lead to increased hunger and appetite which leads to weight gain.

Sleeping your way to a more healthy weight

A randomized clinical study of 80 overweight adults showed that getting enough sleep at night reduced the amount of food people ate during the day by about 270 fewer calories per day than people who were chronically sleep deprived. This would lead to about 26 pounds of weight loss over 3 years if maintained. This suggests that improving and maintaining sufficient sleep time could reduce weight gain. The study also showed that with just one sleep hygiene counseling session, participants increased their average sleep by over an hour a night and this led to a large decrease in how much they ate without prescribing any other lifestyle changes.

In summary, studies show that when people do not get adequate sleep, they choose high carbohydrate and high fat foods. They are also more likely to snack late at night and eat larger amounts of food. All these habits are a recipe for weight gain.

Take charge and improve your sleep with these 5 tips

  1. Prioritize sleep! The American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends 7+ hours for adults
  2. Avoid alcohol close to bedtime and try to eat dinner at least 3 hours before bed
  3. Control your light exposure. Avoid blue light emitted by electronic devices which interfere with your body’s natural sleep signals
  4. Keep your bedroom dark and cool. If needed, use room darkening shades and a sleep mask
  5. Please see your physician if you snore, experience night sweats, or frequent urination interfering with sleep

Be Strong, Be Healthy, Be in Charge!
-Melissa Young, MD

About Melissa Young, MD

Melissa Young, MD is a physician in the Cleveland Clinic Center for Functional Medicine and is a Certified Functional Medicine specialist through the Institute for Functional Medicine. She is one of only 35 physicians world-wide to have completed a Residential Integrative Medicine Fellowship at the University of Arizona Andrew Weil Center for Integrative Medicine trained by Dr. Andrew Weil. 
Dr. Young received her medical degree from Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York in 1995 and completed residency training in Internal Medicine at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City in 1998. She is board-certified in Internal Medicine.

She emphasizes a holistic approach to healthcare with focus on treating the root cause of complex, chronic disease. She assesses the interactions of genetics with factors such diet, sleep, physical activity, stress and environmental exposures in each individual with a focus on healthy lifestyle choices. All interventions are as natural as possible and may also include dietary supplements, detoxification support, and mind-body practices. As each patient is unique, Dr. Young seeks to assess all aspects of an individual’s lifestyle, genetics, environment, emotions, beliefs, and social relationships which influence health and disease.

She facilitates The Functioning For Life Weight SMA to support lifestyle and behavioral interventions for weight loss at the Cleveland Clinic Center for Functional Medicine.

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