Sleep More, Weigh Less

Woman rubbing her eyes after waking up

Medically reviewed in June 2021

The link between sleep and weight loss received a big boost in 2011, when a long-term, large-scale study confirmed that both too little sleep and too much sleep leads to weight gain.

Researchers at Harvard University examined how various lifestyle habits affected weight over an extended period of time. The study included more than 120,000 participants, both men and women, all of whom began in basic good health: none were suffering from any chronic diseases, and none were obese. Researchers monitored their weight in 4-year intervals over a total period of 20 years. Their findings provide more evidence to support the weight-control benefits of a full 6-8 hours of nightly sleep: Adults who slept fewer than 6 hours per night or more than 8 hours per night gained more weight than those whose nightly sleep fell within the recommended 6-8 hour range.

In addition to sleep, researchers also evaluated the effects of diet, exercise, alcohol consumption, smoking, and television watching habits on weight. The most significant weight gain occurred for people whose diet was filled with high-fat, high-sugar foods (no surprise, there). In particular, potato chips and other potato products as well as sugary beverages such as soda were associated with the most weight gain. As you might expect, diets rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and nuts helped people keep their weight under control. Physical activity also helped people to keep from gaining weight.

We already know that sleep has an effect on our eating habits—on what we consume, how much we consume, and how well we burn it off.  Studies have shown that when we’re sleep deprived, we’re more likely to:

  • Feel hungry, and consume more calories throughout a day
  • Eat higher fat and calorie foods
  • Burn calories less effectively

When we’re sleep deprived, we’re also just more likely to give in to temptation. We’ve simply got more time to choose to eat, and our judgment and willpower will be weaker when we’re tired -- meaning we’re more likely to reach for the cookie jar than the fruit bowl.

The good news is that a solid sleep routine can help you keep your weight in a healthy place, over the long term. Here are some basic strategies:

1. Set yourself up for sleep. Create a bedroom environment that supports and enhances good sleep habits. A quiet, dark, laptop, text -free space will help you sleep better, and longer.

2. Choose a bedtime. We schedule so many things in our daily lives—there’s no reason we can’t do the same with bedtime. Working backward from your necessary wake-up time, find the right bedtime to allow you 6-8 hours of sleep.

3. Prepare yourself. Kids aren’t the only ones who need to wind down before bed. To prepare yourself for sleep, follow these general “power-down” guidelines:

  • Schedule exercise no closer than 4 hours before bedtime
  • Forgo alcohol within 3 hours of bedtime
  • Turn off electronics 1 hour before bedtime
  • Find time for a nap. There’s increasing evidence to support that napping is healthy for both body and mind.

Establishing good sleep habits can really help you reach and maintain a healthy weight over the long term -  giving you that waistline you want, and protecting your overall health.

Sweet Dreams.

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