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Health and Wellbeing

Can Sleep Help With Weight Loss?

Dr Nerina Ramlakhan

Dr Nerina Ramlakhan

12th December, 2023

Tired woman after waking up

Research trends suggest that we are sleeping less hours and that our sleep quality has become less restorative, and at the same time, average body weights and obesity seem to be on the rise. Joining the dots, it seems logical that there is a connection between sleep and weight management.

The relationship between sleep and weight management is complex but a number of research studies suggest that getting a good night’s sleep really can help you to manage your weight in a healthy way. Conversely, sleep deprivation and poor-quality sleep might even cause weight gain. Short sleep — usually defined as fewer than 6–7 hours, has been repeatedly linked to a higher body mass index (BMI) and weight gain.

An analysis of 20 studies with over 300,000 people found a 41% increased obesity risk among adults who slept fewer than 7 hours per night. In contrast, sleep was not a factor in the development of obesity in adults who slept longer for 7–9 hours per night.

Here are some additional insights that you might want to consider when thinking about weight control and your sleep:

You are more likely to eat more when you haven’t slept well

Scientists believe that the connection between weight and sleep lies in how sleep affects appetite. Your appetite is controlled by neurotransmitters, which are chemical messengers that allow neurons (nerve cells) to communicate with one another.

In particular, the neurotransmitters ghrelin and leptin are thought to be key to appetite. Ghrelin promotes hunger, and leptin contributes to feeling full. The body naturally increases and decreases the levels of these neurotransmitters throughout the day, signalling the need to eat or not eat.

A lack of sleep may affect the body’s regulation of these neurotransmitters and imbalances in ghrelin and leptin may lead to increased appetite and diminished feelings of fullness in people who are sleep deprived.

In addition, several studies have also indicated that sleep deprivation affects food preferences. Sleep-deprived people choose foods that are high in calories and carbohydrates.

Additionally, the more time you spend awake, the more opportunities you have to eat and comfort eat if you are tired and tetchy. Naturally, this can lead to weight gain.

Fruit and eating well

Could getting good sleep improve your metabolism?

Your metabolism is the chemical process in which your body converts what you eat and drink into the energy you need to function and survive. Everything that you are able to do as you go about your day – breathe, move, think, and more – is related to your metabolism.

Activities like exercise can temporarily increase your metabolism but sleep cannot. In fact, your metabolism actually slows down about 15% during sleep, reaching its lowest level in the morning.

However, while sleeping doesn’t increase your metabolism as such, studies indicate that not getting enough sleep can cause your metabolism to become inefficient.

And how?

Poor sleep is associated with increased oxidative stress, glucose (blood sugar) intolerance (a precursor to diabetes), and insulin resistance. Extra time spent awake may increase the opportunities to eat, and sleeping less may disrupt circadian rhythms, leading to weight gain.

In fact, many studies have shown that sleep deprivation (whether due to shift working or poor sleep habits, insomnia, untreated sleep apnoea, or other sleep disorders) commonly leads to metabolic imbalances.

Getting good sleep makes you more likely to be active (which helps weight control)

Losing sleep can result in you simply having less energy to be active. Feeling tired can also make sports and exercising less safe, especially activities like weightlifting and or those requiring balance. While researchers are still working to understand this connection, it’s well known that exercise is essential to maintaining weight loss and overall health.

Getting regular exercise can improve your sleep quality, especially if that exercise involves getting out into natural light. While even taking a short walk during the day may help to improve your sleep and decrease daytime sleepiness.

Elderly lady exercising

The bottom line is – while there is still research to be done – if you are trying to lose weight, not getting enough sleep is going to sabotage your efforts. Try to ensure that you are getting enough rest and sleep. This means getting enough hours of sleep aiming for 7 to 8 hours per night and ensuring that your sleep is restorative. For more advice on how to do this, please revisit our previous blogs which offer great tips on how to get a good night’s sleep. Just to get you started, here are two important tips that are based on my unique sleep methodology – these will not only help you to sleep better but they will also help you to control your weight more effectively.

1. Go to bed earlier - this will not only help you to avoid late night snacking but also preparing to rest earlier and before midnight will set you up for deeper, more restorative sleep.

2. Eat breakfast on rising – avoid skipping breakfast especially if you are having any sleep problems. Aim to eat within 45 minutes of rising and ensure that your breakfast is nutrient rich containing a good mix of protein, fat and carbohydrates. Boiled or scrambled eggs or avocado on whole-wheat toast are a perfect example of a good, balanced breakfast.

Avocado on Toast

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