Weight Loss & Sleep: Is Your Diet Being Sabotaged By Your Sleeping Habits?

Wednesday, September 27, 2006 - 7:19am

By Michele Silence, MA

Exercise, eat right, and get a good night’s rest. According to recent data on the relationship between weight loss and sleep, if you want to lose weight you really need to do all three.

Lack of sleep increases overeating

Researchers from several separate studies 1 have found a link between sleep and the hormones that influence our eating behavior. Two specific hormones are involved. Ghrelin is responsible for feelings of hunger. Leptin tells the brain when it’s time to stop. When you’re sleep deprived, your ghrelin levels increase at the same time that your leptin levels decrease. The result is an increased craving for food and not feeling full. Add the fact that sleep deprived people tend to chose different foods to snack on—mainly high calorie sweets and salty and starchy foods—and it’s easy to see how these small changes can lead to long-term weight gain.

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In a study of 1,024 people aged 30-60, Body Mass Index (BMI) levels were recorded2. Those who slept only three hours a night had a 5% increase in body weight over 15 years. Researchers say that the number may well be an underestimate of the real life impact.

Optimal sleep for weight loss

Most people need between seven and nine hours of sleep a night. Some more, some less. Very few of us actually get the minimum of seven. How do you know how much sleep you really need? Experts say to sleep as long as you want for several days (best done on vacation). Then, your sleep should stabilize and you’ll find yourself waking up after the same number of hours daily, within 15 minutes or so. Once you know about how much sleep you need, start getting into a steady routine. Set a regular time for sleep. Start getting ready ahead of time. And experts say, avoid using the bed for watching TV or doing work.

Sleep + exercise + a healthy diet = weight loss

Don’t think snoozing a few hours longer each night will solve a weight problem. It won’t. Exercising and eating healthfully is still the way to go. But, lack of shut-eye may soon be considered another risk factor for obesity. Especially since 65 percent of Americans are overweight and 63 percent of people don’t get eight hours of sleep a night. Interestingly, many of those who are overweight also don’t sleep enough.

One thing does seem to be clear. When your body is not hungry for sleep, it won’t be so hungry for food either.

1 Van Cauter, E. Annals of Internal Medicine, Dec. 7, 2004; vol 141: pp 846-850
Flier, J. Annals of Internal Medicine, Dec. 7, 2004; vol 141: pp 885-886
2Tahari, S. Public Library of Science, Dec. 6, 2004