Trying to lose weight can feel overwhelming — particularly if you’re not seeing results as fast as you’d hoped. One of the most frustrating parts about attempting to lose weight is that there are so many outside factors that can hinder your progress. Your sleep, for example, may play a role in how quickly you’re able to shed extra pounds.
With less Americans getting sleep — roughly 1 in 3 does not get the recommended 7 hours of sleep per CDC guidelines — is there a connection between lack of sleep and weight gain?
“Sleep and obesity have a reciprocal relationship in that poor sleep, either in amount or timing, is associated with problems in controlling appetite, which can result in obesity,” says Dr. Nayantara Santhi. “Likewise, being overweight increases the risk of developing sleep disorders like sleep apnea, which can lead to sleep disturbances.”
“Furthermore, there is a circadian influence such that eating at the wrong time. For example, late at night, may increase the risk of weight gain.”
Here’s everything you need to know about the connection between sleep and weight, sleep and exercise, and tips for boosting your sleep at night when trying to lose weight.
Does Getting Enough Sleep Each Night Improve Your Metabolism?
We all know sleep is important, but why does it matter when it comes to weight loss? There are different ways in which not getting enough sleep may impact your weight loss goals, but one of the major links lies between your sleep quality and your metabolism.
Your metabolism is responsible for converting the foods we consume and beverages we drink, turning them into energy. When your metabolism increases, you may burn more energy, which could lead you to burn more calories. However, when your metabolism decreases, you’ll burn less.
When you sleep, your metabolism slows, which leads to your burning less calories. While this is normal, if you suffer from sleep deprivation, however, your metabolism’s normal processes can become irregular, Verified Source Medline Plus Online resource offered by the National Library of Medicine and part of the National Institutes of Health. View source which some studies indicate could cause weight gain.
For example, poor sleep is often linked Verified Source National Library of Medicine (NIH) World’s largest medical library, making biomedical data and information more accessible. View source with metabolic dysregulation, which researchers posit may lead to weight gain, obesity, and some diseases as a result of increased weight, such as diabetes.
In general, medical researchers note the link between a disrupted metabolism and sleep deprivation Verified Source National Library of Medicine (NIH) World’s largest medical library, making biomedical data and information more accessible. View source is strong, so looking for ways to heal one of these issues could lead to positive benefits for the other.
Are You More Likely to Eat More When You’re Sleep-Deprived?
Of course, there are other explanations for why a disrupted sleep schedule might lead to weight gain. If you’re spending less time sleeping, you may have more hours during the day to eat, which can lead to sufferers consuming more calories, and thus, gaining more weight.
Neurotransmitter ghrelin signals the feeling of hunger, while leptin signals that your body is full. These neurotransmitters work in tandem during the day and night, and can be impacted by the sleep-wake cycle. In other words, if your sleep is disrupted from a night of poor rest, these satiety signalers can be thrown off.
If you’re receiving less than the recommended seven hours of sleep Verified Source Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) The United States’ health protection agency that defends against dangers to health and safety. View source per night, your ghrelin neurotransmitter may increase, boosting your hunger signals and causing you to eat more. Likewise, your leptin neurotransmitter may decrease, preventing your body from realizing when it’s full, which can also lead to overeating.
In addition to potentially eating more when you don’t get enough sleep, there’s also a higher risk of eating unhealthier, higher fat foods. Studies have found Verified Source National Library of Medicine (NIH) World’s largest medical library, making biomedical data and information more accessible. View source that those who do not get enough sleep tend to crave higher-calorie, often less-healthy foods, which can lead to further weight gain.
Although science isn’t quite sure why we crave unhealthy foods more Verified Source National Library of Medicine (NIH) World’s largest medical library, making biomedical data and information more accessible. View source when we’re sleep deprived — though it’s probable our endocannabinoid system plays a large role — they do know that there’s a strong correlation between eating higher-calorie foods and not getting enough sleep.
The Strong Connection Between Sleep and Exercise
Exercise, a major component to losing weight and maintaining a healthy lifestyle, can also be impacted by your sleep habits. While regular exercise can help boost your sleep health, this tip isn’t quite so clear-cut.
That’s because exercising when you’re sleep-deprived can be less effective — and in some cases, dangerous. While exercising can help wake you up and energy your body, if you didn’t get enough sleep the night before, you may not be able to concentrate as fully as you could if you were well-rested.
It’s typically fine to engage in light exercises when sleep deprived (such as walking or other low-impact moves). However, engaging in high-intensity exercises, using bulky equipment, and lifting weights when suffering sleep deprivation should be avoided so you can prevent hurting yourself.
If you find it hard to focus because you didn’t get enough sleep, it’s best to turn to lighter exercises that won’t put your body in danger.
Lack of Sleep Is Connected to Higher Levels of Obesity
Since not getting enough sleep is linked to eating more, making unhealthier eating choices, and can make exercising more difficult, it might not be surprising to learn that it’s also linked to a higher likelihood of developing obesity.
Early childhood studies have found that children who do not get adequate sleep and develop poor sleeping habits are more likely to be overweight or obese — and there are theories that these habits continue well into adolescence, making it more difficult to lose weight.
One of the largest sleep and obesity studies Verified Source Harvard Health Blog run by Harvard Medical School offering in-depth guides to better health and articles on medical breakthroughs. View source to date found that women who received five or less hours of sleep per night were 15% more likely to become obese than those who received more sleep.
And, if you work the night shift, you’re also at a higher risk of developing obesity. Verified Source National Library of Medicine (NIH) World’s largest medical library, making biomedical data and information more accessible. View source A similar study found nurses Verified Source National Library of Medicine (NIH) World’s largest medical library, making biomedical data and information more accessible. View source who worked rotating night shifts were more likely to throw off their circadian rhythms, leading to a higher chance of obesity.
While some of the reasons behind the correlations are not well understood to medical researchers, the connection between not getting enough sleep and obesity is clear.
Obesity May Lead to Sleeping Disorders
Likewise, obesity can also lead to sleeping disorders — or additional sleeping problems. Obesity is linked to sleeping disorders like sleep apnea. Those who are obese or overweight are also more likely to experience insomnia and other sleep issues.
For many, this can place you into a vicious cycle. You’ll gain weight, and as your sleep continues to suffer, it makes it harder for you to make healthier food and exercise choices, while improving the chances that you’ll continue gaining weight. For example, weight gain and sleep apnea can simultaneously worsen each other.
Tips for Improving Sleep while Trying to Lose Weight
Since the link between sleep and losing weight is clear, focusing on getting better quality sleep at night can also help you shed pounds more easily. Here are some tips for improving your sleep so you can focus on losing weight.
1. Get Screens out of Your Room
Screens from electronics often emit blue light technology that is harmful to your sleep. Blue light technology actually prevents your body from producing melatonin (or reduces that amount it makes) in some cases, which can prevent you from getting sleepy at night.
While you can’t avoid blue light completely, limiting your screen time at night and keeping screens out of your bedroom are two ways to prevent blue light from harming your sleep. This means keeping TVs, phones, tablets, and other smart devices outside of the bedroom.
Not only can a tech-fee bedroom help prevent blue light from messing with your sleep, but it can also take distractions out of the room, which may help you fall asleep more easily.
2. Create a Night Time Routine
Teach your body it’s time to go to bed by creating a bedtime routine and sticking to it. A night time routine doesn’t have to be long or involve many steps — but it should be consistent. This can help signal to your body that you’re ready to go to sleep.
Night time routines will vary — yours might involve reading, a skincare regime, yoga, or a series of steps that you take before getting into bed. If you can avoid it, we recommend heeding the advice of our first tip and keeping screens out of your evening routine.
3. Do Something Relaxing Before Bed
If you’re not interested in a bedtime routine, finding something relaxing to do before bed can help your body rest and get ready for some down time. Studies have shown that relaxing activities can improve your sleep quality, so try to find something that works well for you.
Reading before bed, taking a warm shower or bath, drinking a cup of herbal tea, enjoying the company of your family, or even talking to your partner in bed are all potential ways to relax and get ready to fall asleep.
You can also set up your bedroom to feel more relaxing at night, such as relying on perfumed plants and oils for a soothing environment:
- Creating a Calm, Clutter-Free Bedroom
- Best Plants for Your Bedroom
- Best Essential Oils for Sleep
- Best and Worst Bedroom Colors for Sleep
- How To Create The Perfect Sleep Environment
4. Avoid Eating Close to Your Bedtime
This may sound more like a myth, but eating close to your bedtime can keep you up later and decrease your sleep quality. Eating near your bedtime means your body has to work to digest your food. In other words, the energizing process of eating before bed can make it more difficult for your body to relax and fall asleep.
To avoid food from keeping you awake, we recommend you stop eating three hours before your bedtime — when possible. This will give your body enough time to digest and should give you enough time to eat after work.
5. Go for a Daily Walk
We mentioned exercise can be tricky to manage if you sleep deprived, but walking is generally safe to try out. Going for a daily walk is a great way to get your heart rate up and add some cardiovascular activity into your routine. How can simple, regular exercise help sleep? Well, it can help you feel more tired at night.
If you can, go for a walk first thing in the morning, after the sun comes up. This exposes your body to sunlight and can help keep your circadian rhythm in sync. Your body’s internal clock is sensitive to light and darkness.
Going for a daily walk outside in the morning can help your body register that it’s time to wake up, which then makes it easier for your body to acknowledge when it’s time to go to bed later in the evening.
6. Limit Caffeine
Although some studies have mixed findings regarding caffeine and sleep quality, it’s generally accepted that caffeine can mess with your sleep cycle, particularly when you drink it later in the day. While this means you can still have your regular cup of coffee, it also means you should limit how much you drink.
Opt for one cup in the morning instead of two. If you tend to drink multiple cups in the morning, try spacing out your coffee breaks or switching to water in between cups.
Other options you can try are incorporating decaf coffee into your routine, switching to non-caffeinated beverages, or quitting caffeine altogether. While tea is sometimes a good swap, many teas are also high in caffeine, so keep that in mind before switching out your hot beverages. Many of the best teas for sleep are purely herbal, as even decaf tea has trace amounts of caffeine.
7. Talk to Your Doctor
If you’re struggling to fall asleep and these tips aren’t helping, we recommend reaching out to your doctor. This is especially important if you think your quality of sleep is making it hard to lose weight or live a generally healthy lifestyle.
Your doctor may order a sleep study or ask you to record your symptoms in a sleep diary to get a better view of what’s going on in your body. You might find out you have a sleeping disorder or other medical problem causing your sleep issues. Once your doctor determines what’s wrong, they can get you on the path to improving your sleep and well-being.
Frequently Asked Questions
How can I fall asleep quickly?
The best way to fall asleep fast is to prepare yourself for bed with a relaxing routine. Drinking tea, reading a book, and having a chat with your loved ones can all improve sleep.
To manage anxieties and worries that may keep you up, try jotting down whatever concerns or do-list thoughts you have for the next day. Having a clear mind free of worries can help you fall asleep swiftly.
What do I do if I can’t fall asleep?
If you find yourself struggling to fall asleep, one of the best things you can do is get out of bed. Lying in bed for 20 or 30 without falling asleep can leave you feeling frustrated or anxious, glancing at the clock and calculating how long until you need to wake up. Getting out of bed and making yourself a simple cup of tea or doing a simple activity can help you relax and feel sleepy, which is when you should return to bed.
Can losing weight help me sleep better?
Yes, if you have sleep apnea or another condition that affects how well you breathe while lying down, losing weight may improve your sleep quality. However, since it takes time to lose weight with lifestyle changes, you will also want to look for more immediate solutions that help you sleep better at night. For many with sleep apnea, using a CPAP machine and elevating the upper body significantly improves their sleep quality.
The Bottom Line
Sleep is an integral function in your body and it plays a role in other bodily functions, such as your metabolic rate and desire to eat. Not getting enough sleep can lead you to make poor health decisions, overeat, and ignore cues that your body is full.
While the connection between sleep and weight is still being explored, if you’re struggling to lose weight, fixing your sleep hygiene might help. While it may not be the main cause of your weight loss problems, it’s likely a contributing factor.
Try out our tips for improving your sleep quality and be sure to talk to your doctor if your sleeping problems start to impact your daily life.
About the author
Courtney is a freelancer writer and editor living in Indianapolis with 10+ years of experience publishing digital content. She focuses on personal finance, small business, and health/wellness. Her work has been published in The Chicago Tribune, MSN, AOL, The Motley Fool, Benzinga, The Balance, Best Reviews, and The Culture Trip.View all posts