Critical Connection: Sleep And Weight Loss



There's a critical connection between sleep and weight loss.

Are you getting all the rest you need? Overweight? Discover the connection.


In our continuing series “Real Help With Weight Loss” we starting by mentioning 5 keys that turn out to be critical for any diet effort to succeed. Today, in part III of our series, we focus on getting enough sleep and how too little of it can wreck havoc with our plans to manage weight.


No doubt you’ve already heard that to lose weight you need to cut calories and increase your physical activity. But did anyone bother mentioning that without enough sleep most any diet is unlikely to succeed in the long run?


Dusty has crashed. He's pooped.

My dog has it figured out. He can sleep anywhere.

As we learned in Part I, our bodies have a way to conspire against us. Lose a little weight and the body suddenly thinks it’s in starvation mode and we need to fatten up for a long, hard winter. The real issue for weight loss seems to center around the ability of our metabolism to efficiently process food and other nutrients. Do the wrong things and our metabolism slows down. We gain weight as a result. Do the right things and everything keeps humming along in fine form. We lose more weight when our metabolism is tuned to be its most effective.


It turns out the quantity and quality of our sleep is one factor that plays a significant role in managing metabolism. Michael Brues, PhD and author of Beauty Sleep attributes this to two specific hormones in our bodies. The two are ghrelin and leptin. Brues describes the basics this way: “Ghrelin is the ‘go’ hormone that tells you when to eat, and when you are sleep-deprived, you have more ghrelin. Leptin is the hormone that tells you to stop eating, and when you are sleep deprived, you have less leptin.” In other words, when we fail to get enough sleep, we end up feeling hungrier than ever with less willpower to resist eating—a true recipe for weight gain.


I love sleeping on the beach.

I sleep best when I'm unstressed. I could sure fall asleep here.

An interesting study out of the University of Chicago led by Eve Van Cauter seems to confirm the role of hormones in managing metabolism. In the study, a small group of men in their early twenties volunteered to sleep only four hours for each of two nights in a row. For the next two nights they were allowed to sleep 10 hours. Amazingly, Van Cauter found that after only 2 nights of sleep deprivation the men had a 24 percent greater appetite. Perhaps even more telling, they craved high-sugar, high-salt and starchy foods. (Source: ABC News)


On average, Brues and others suggest adults require about 7.5 hours of quality sleep each night. An extensive review of numerous sleep studies by Sanjay R. Patel and Frank B. Hu published under the research journal Obesity at seems to confirm the idea that good sleep and weight loss go hand in hand. What becomes a bit murkier from the Patel and Hu review is that because of the way some sleep studies are conducted or because of the purpose for which they’re designed, the results are not entirely uniform across ages, sexes or potentially even races. However, there appears to good evidence for a U-shaped range where getting enough sleep is very helpful for managing weight, but getting too little or too much has the opposite effect.


Getting good sleep is critical.

I got only six hours of sleep last night. It's just not enough.

As I think of my own experience, I know when I fail to get enough sleep a couple important things happen. One, I’m groggy and less conscious of my actions. That means I’ll start my day going on auto-pilot. At that point, anyone can put food in front of me and I’ll just start shoveling it into my mouth. It’ll be gone before I’m even aware I’m eating it.


The second thing that happens due to poor sleep the night before is I’ll be sleepier throughout the day. That means I have less energy and willpower to motivate myself to be active. Going for that daily walk seems like much more of grind. It’s easier to skip it altogether and go take a nap.


When I get too much sleep, I also function at less than optimal levels. I start out feeling achy and sore for staying in bed too long—a problem that’s become more noticeable as I’ve aged. That makes moving or other physical activity harder. I also tend to suffer from more sinus-related issues when I sleep too long. Breathing is more difficult or I’ll end up with a sinus headache and become irritable and grouchy. Again, when I’m feeling out of sorts, I’m less conscious about paying attention to the things I eat or anything going on around me.



Most experts are quick to caution that if we only increase the amount of sleep we get each night it’s unlikely to result in significant weight loss unless we’re also willing to commit to leading a healthier overall lifestyle. However, it seems clear that getting good rest may be far more important than previously recognized in terms of managing our weight. It’s certainly food for thought, especially as the demands of the workplace or improvements to technology seem to intrude into our personal lives. Got a cell phone? Ever been texted or called in the middle of the night? Maybe that’s reason enough to power it off.


No one can wake JB up.

Click on the picture to find out if JB ever wakes up.

There are a lot of reasons for not getting enough sleep. Stress and emotional turmoil are certainly a couple worth looking at. Sleep apnea is another. Sleep apnea is a condition in which a person basically stops breathing for a time and then the body jerks the person awake in order to get that next breath of air. No matter the cause, if you have trouble sleeping you may be interested in our post, “Help I Can’t Get To Sleep” which offers 14 suggestions for getting the rest you need.


As we continue our series we’ll take up more issues critical to help you lose weight and keep it off. Stay tuned.

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