The Surprising Connection Between Sleep and Weight Loss

A man lays on his sides in bed and sleeps peacefully.
  • Sleep plays a crucial role in weight loss and overall health, affecting metabolic processes, hormonal regulation, and eating behavior.

  • Lack of sleep can lead to more food cravings, disrupted appetite regulation, and impaired decision-making, which contributes to weight gain over time.

  • Improving sleep quality involves establishing a consistent sleep schedule, creating a comfortable environment where rest can be prioritized, and practicing relaxation techniques.

Eating less and moving more was once considered the simplest weight loss strategy.

However, researchers are beginning to understand the importance of other factors, like sleep, when it comes to effective weight management.

Many recent studies have shown that the duration and quality of sleep we get every night are crucial for weight loss.

Unfortunately, the average American isn’t getting enough sleep, which may be why many people are struggling to maintain a healthy weight.

LifeMD can help you understand exactly how sleep impacts your weight and what you can do to ensure you reach your health goals.

The Science Behind Sleep and Weight Loss

When it comes to weight loss, people tend to focus on diet and exercise as the primary factors. But studies are showing that sleep plays an equally important role in achieving a healthy weight.

If we don't get adequate sleep, it can impact the body's metabolic processes, hormonal regulation, and even our behaviors related to food intake and energy expenditure.

One of the key physiological mechanisms linking sleep and weight loss involves the regulation of appetite hormones.

The three important hormones involved in the sleep and weight management process are leptin, ghrelin, and cortisol.

Leptin is produced by the fat cells and signals to the brain that we are full and should stop eating. Ghrelin stimulates the appetite and encourages us to eat.

Cortisol — also known as the stress hormone — is also affected when we get insufficient sleep. Its levels begin to elevate, which increases our appetite and enhances the body’s storage of excess fat.

Higher cortisol levels can contribute to insulin resistance, which can make it difficult for the body to regulate sugar. This may lead to storing the sugar as fat instead of converting it to energy.

How Does Lack of Sleep Impact Weight?

Some studies highlight the link between lack of sleep and weight gain. These results emphasize the importance of quality sleep and the crucial role it plays in maintaining a healthy weight.

One of the key ways that sleep impacts weight is through increased food cravings, particularly for high-calorie and carbohydrate-rich foods.

Sleep deprivation disrupts the balance of hormones that regulate appetite, leading to a hankering for sugary or fatty foods. When we don’t sleep enough, the body’s leptin levels decrease, and the signal to stop eating becomes weaker.

A lack of sleep also causes increased ghrelin levels, which stimulates our appetite and makes us more prone to overeating — leading to weight gain over time.

Prolonged hormonal imbalances can influence our eating behaviors and decision-making processes.

Chronically sleep-deprived individuals may experience a lower sense of self-control and impaired judgment, making it harder for them to resist unhealthy food choices. If you’re tired, you may lack energy and motivation for physical activity, which can also negatively impact your weight.

A woman sleeps on her side in bed.

Prioritizing Quality Sleep for Weight Loss

Establishing a proper sleep routine is essential for improving the quality of your rest.

Maintaining a consistent sleep schedule helps the body to regulate its internal clock — also known as the circadian rhythm. Going to bed and waking at the same time enforces a healthy sleep/wake cycle which allows the body to enhance its physiological processes like metabolism and appetite.

Once you’ve established when you want to go to bed and wake up, it’s important to create a comfortable environment to rest.

Studies have shown that we get the best quality sleep in cool, dark, and quiet rooms. To achieve this environment, you can use blackout curtains, earplugs, and white noise machines to minimize disruptions.

You can also practice relaxation techniques, which have been linked to better sleep quality. Reading a book, taking a warm bath, or meditating are signals that can help the body learn when it’s time to wind down.

This allows the body to establish normal sleep patterns which can aid successful weight loss efforts.

Additionally, avoid stimulating activities — like intense forms of exercise — close to your bedtime because they raise your heart rate which makes it harder to fall asleep.

Key Point: How Does Sleep Help You Lose Weight?

While a prolonged lack of sleep may lead to gaining a few pounds, getting enough rest is essential for reaching your weight loss goals. Getting enough sleep may promote weight loss by:

  • Improving appetite moderation and helping to reduce caloric intake
  • Improving your decision-making processes
  • Helping you to avoid decreases in the metabolism that occur when you don’t get enough sleep

How much should I be sleeping to lose weight?

Every age group has a different recommended sleep duration.

According to the National Sleep Foundation, adults aged 18-64 require seven to nine hours of sleep per night. Adults aged 65 and older may need around seven to eight hours, while children and adolescents require eight to ten hours.

It’s important to note that sleeping well isn’t the only factor you need to consider when trying to lose weight.

Although sleep is important, you should also prioritize eating a balanced diet and getting more exercise.

A mans feet are seen before stepping onto a scale.

Sleep Hygiene and Healthy Lifestyle Habits: Tips for a Better Night’s Rest

Promoting quality sleep to support your weight loss starts with good sleep hygiene and healthy lifestyle habits.

Increasing physical activity

Regular physical activity has been shown to significantly improve sleep quality.

Although researchers aren’t exactly sure how this works, numerous studies have confirmed that exercise increases the amount of slow-wave sleep (SWS) we get. This is a form of deep sleep when your brain has a chance to restore and revitalize the body.

Exercise can also help stabilize your mood, which may help improve decision-making, which makes it easier to resist unhealthy foods that can cause weight gain.

Increasing your physical activity is also essential for losing weight and maintaining your health.

Key Point: When is the Best Time to Exercise for Better Sleep?

Exercising too close to your bedtime may keep you up instead of promoting a good night’s rest. This is because:

  • Exercise causes the body to release endorphins that create activity in the brain which prompts it to stay awake
  • Exercise raises your core temperature, which typically signals to the body that it’s time to be awake

For best results, it’s recommended to exercise at least two hours before going to bed to avoid disrupting your internal clock.

Eating a balanced diet

Research has shown that eating a diet high in sugar, saturated fats, and processed carbohydrates can have a negative effect on both your sleep and weight.

These foods tend to prompt individuals to wake up more frequently because they may make people feel uncomfortably full.

Studies have also shown that processed carbohydrates can disrupt deep sleep, which is when the brain restores any damage to the body.

Eating a balanced diet — especially if you feel like snacking before bed — is essential for promoting better sleep and weight loss.

It’s recommended to incorporate more of the following into your diet:

  • Fresh fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Lean proteins like fish or chicken
  • Eggs
  • Whole grains
  • Nuts

You can also consider timing your meals better to avoid feelings of discomfort or indigestion close to bedtime. For best results, finish your dinner a few hours before you go to sleep.

Improving your sleep hygiene

Good sleep hygiene can play a significant role in helping you get a good night’s rest. A few easy habits you can incorporate into your bedtime routine include:

  • Going to bed and waking at the same time, including on weekends
  • Ensuring that your bedroom is quiet, dark, and cool
  • Removing electronic devices from the bedroom to avoid distractions

When you’re sleeping better, you’re more likely to lose unwanted pounds and maintain a healthy weight.

In rare cases, your doctor may recommend sleep medicine — like melatonin tablets — to help you get a better night’s rest.

Avoiding stimulants

Limiting caffeine and alcohol can significantly improve your quality of sleep while promoting weight loss.

These stimulants tend to decrease the duration of deep sleep you get per night, leading to less time for the brain to repair the body.

Caffeine and alcohol may also cause you to wake up more frequently, disrupting your sleep cycle.

In addition to creating poor quality sleep, stimulants like alcohol are packed with empty calories that have no nutritional value for the body and often lead to weight gain.

Other stimulants that you should avoid before bedtime include electronic devices like mobile phones and TVs. These devices emit blue light that suppresses the production of melatonin — a chemical released by the brain that makes you feel drowsy — which can impact the duration of deep sleep.

A woman is sitting on a bed in dim light holding a cup of tea and reading.

Managing stress

High levels of stress have often been linked to sleep deprivation and weight gain. When we experience stress, it takes the brain longer to fall asleep, leading to a shorter period of rest.

High stress prompts the body to wake up more often – affecting sleep quality — and increases cortisol levels. This decreases your metabolism while spiking your cravings for fatty or sugary foods, which may lead to weight gain.

Where Can I Learn More About Sleep and Weight Management?

If you’re struggling to sleep well, LifeMD can help. A licensed professional can assist you with information about healthy sleep habits and prescribe non-habit-forming medication if needed — all from the comfort of your own home.

If you're looking to shed excess pounds, you may also be interested in enrolling in the LifeMD Weight Management Program. LifeMD pairs access to groundbreaking GLP-1 medications with clinical oversight, metabolic testing, and ongoing support from licensed healthcare providers to help you lose weight and feel healthier overall.

Kimberli Hastings, CNP

Kimberli is a Family Nurse Practitioner, practicing in the areas of Family Medicine and Mental Health since 2019. She has worked in nursing homes, dialysis centers, and clinics. Kimberli’s goal as a healthcare provider is to improve her patients' lives.

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This article is intended for informational purposes only and should not be considered medical advice. Consult a healthcare professional or call a doctor in the case of a medical emergency.

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