Sleep: Does it make a difference in losing weight?

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Positive impacts of sleep on your health

There are many factors that impact weight loss: diet, exercise, and even sleep! While the amount of sleep everyone needs can vary, the average amount a healthy adult needs is about 7 to 9 hours every night. Although everyone sleeps, we often don't think about the benefits of sleep and what our body is doing while we sleep. It allows us to rest and feel recharged in the morning. It also helps to support immunity, metabolism, memory, and learning. 

Can sleep affect weight loss?

Surprisingly the answer is yes! Sleep can also contribute to weight loss. Getting an adequate amount of sleep every night plays a critical role in losing weight. Poor sleep quality can lead to metabolic issues, weight gain, and an increased risk of obesity. Although there is still debate on the relationship between sleep and BMI, the existing research does demonstrate a congruent relationship between sleep  and weight loss. 

One hypothesis about this relationship is in regards to how appetite is affected by sleep. Appetite is controlled by neurotransmitters, specifically ghrelin and leptin. Ghrelin causes you to feel hungry and leptin makes you feel full. Since the body naturally regulates the levels of neurotransmitters throughout the day, a lack of sleep may interrupt this natural regulation. In a study, men who got 4 hours of sleep had increased levels of ghrelin and decreased levels of leptin in comparison to the men who got 10 hours of sleep. Thus causing them to be hungrier and ultimately eat more. Sleep deprivation can also impact a person's choice of food. Those who are sleep-deprived often prefer more carbohydrate-rich foods which can contribute to weight gain.

Metabolism is the process by which the body converts our food and drinks into energy for us to use. While we are sleeping, our body’s metabolism decreases more than it does during the day. Thus, sleep deprivation leads to metabolic dysregulation and is thought to contribute to weight gain indirectly by allowing for increased food consumption during the awake hours of the day. Sleep can also influence your weight by affecting your circadian rhythm.

Your circadian rhythm is the physical, mental, and behavioral patterns that repeat when mapped over a 24-hour cycle. These patterns allow your body to carry out essential functions at regular intervals in an almost automatic fashion. One of the most important circadian rhythms is the sleep-wake cycle. It ensures the body’s processes are optimized at certain times in the 24-hour cycle. The sleep-wake cycle coordinates the mental and physical systems as well as the digestive system which produces proteins to match average meal times. During the day, light exposure lets us know to stay awake and the body remains alert. As the night falls, the internal clock begins producing melatonin, which acts like a signal indicating that it is time to sleep. Getting the right amount of healthy sleep at the same time on a daily basis is a key component in regulating your circadian rhythm which can ultimately contribute to weight loss.

How do you improve your quality of sleep?

Healthy sleep hygiene can allow you to maximize the quality and thereby beneficial effects of sleep. The following habits can be useful when practicing healthy sleep hygiene:      

  • Exposure to natural light in the day reinforces the circadian rhythm to stay awake during the day     
  • Following a consistent sleep routine can help establish a regular circadian rhythm.      
  • Getting daily exercise can make it easier to fall asleep at night     
  • Avoiding caffeine and other stimulants, especially close to bedtime     
  • Limit light exposure right before bed 

Bottom Line

Managing sleep can contribute to natural weight loss by having many beneficial effects on your health. It is a great first step in beginning a healthy weight loss journey. 

Author: Tahany Moosa

Editor: Ospina Medical Team

* All information subject to change. Images may contain models. Individual results are not guaranteed and may vary.