How does lack of sleep affect my weight?

While it may seem intuitive that sleeping too much can lead to weight gain because it means more time spent being sedentary, emerging studies suggest that getting inadequate rest may also cause your waistline to expand. A study was conducted to examine the effects of sleep on weight by studying more than 68,000 women between the ages of 39 and 65 over a 12-year period. The scientists reported that women who slept five hours or less each night tended to weigh about six pounds more than subjects who got at least seven hours of rest nightly. Moreover, participants who slept less also gained weight more rapidly than their well-rested counterparts.
Studies using mice have shown that mice whose sleep-wake cycles were disrupted by exposure to light during their normal sleeping hours ate more and gained more weight than mice whose cycles remained intact. Newer research has given us a strong start in examining this aspect of the sleep-weight relationship in humans. More investigation is needed, but these results do align with much of what we already know about sleep and weight:
  • When deprived of sleep, the body undergoes a shift in hormones, generating more of the hormones that boost appetite and less of the hormone that signals a feeling of fullness.
  • Sleeping less than six hours per night (or more than eight hours per night) over an extended period of time makes weight gain more likely, according to a long-term study.
  • Lack of sleep significantly reduces the body’s ability to burn calories during waking hours.
Rose Reisman
Nutrition & Dietetics
A study from Northwestern University showed that the less sleep you get, the more you eat and the worse your diet. This can result in consuming an extra 250 calories daily, which equals a two-pound weight gain per month!

Eight hours sleep is ideal to keep our metabolic and physiological systems running efficiently. But most of us get less sleep.

Late-night sleepers tend to consume more fast food and soft drinks, not veggies and fruit, after 8 p.m., often due to lack of options and cravings.

The solution lies in eating a nutritious breakfast, lunch, and dinner and having healthier snacks in between to avoid hunger and keep your blood sugar from dropping. This will minimize the late-night munchies. Each meal should have lean protein and complex carbs.

The more you snooze, the more you’ll lose!

The two digestive hormones that hold the remote control to your feelings of hunger and appetite are ghrelin and leptin. As with many hormones, these two are paired but have opposing functions. One says Go and the other says Stop. Ghrelin (your go hormone) gets secreted by the stomach when it's empty and increases your appetite. It sends a message to your brain that you need to eat. When your stomach is full, fat cells usher out the other hormone, leptin, so your brain gets the message that you are full and need to stop eating.

A bad night's sleep, or just not enough sleep, creates an imbalance of both ghrelin and leptin. Studies now prove that when people are allowed just four hours of sleep a night for two nights, they experience a 20 percent drop in leptin and an increase in ghrelin. They also have a marked increase (about 24 percent) in hunger and appetite. And what do they gravitate toward? Calorie-dense, high-carbohydrate foods like sweets, salty snacks, and starchy foods. Sleep loss essentially disconnects your brain from your stomach, leading to mindless eating. It deceives your body into believing it’s hungry when it’s not, and it also tricks you into craving foods that can sabotage a healthy diet.

From The Mind-Beauty Connection: 9 Days to Less Stress, Gorgeous Skin, and a Whole New You by Amy Wechsler.

Continue Learning about Sleep Basics

Reduce Screen Time for Better Sleep
Reduce Screen Time for Better Sleep
In Bedtime for Bonzo, when college professor Peter Boyd (Ronald Regan) attempts to demonstrate that he can teach a chimpanzee (Bonzo) right from wrong...
Read More
What can cause me to sleep too much?
Dr. Michael Breus, PhDDr. Michael Breus, PhD
People who are sleeping too much are often dealing with one or more of the following issues: Depr...
More Answers
Which is the healthiest sleeping position?
Steven Shoshany, DCSteven Shoshany, DC
The healthiest sleeping position is lying flat on your back with your cervical spine supported. In t...
More Answers
Can My Diet Affect My Sleep?
Can My Diet Affect My Sleep?

Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.