Fact or Myth: Does Getting More Sleep Help You Lose Weight?

This is a fact.

Wouldn’t it be fantastic to lose weight while you sleep? It sounds like a “miracle cure” spiel that couldn’t possibly work…right? Wrong.

The connection between sleep and weight loss is now a scientific fact.

How long you sleep – and the quality of your sleep – triggers hormonal changes in your levels of leptin (determines fullness) and ghrelin (determines hunger) that directly impact your appetite and metabolism.

Michael Breus, PhD of the Atlanta School of Sleep Medicine, and director of The Sleep Disorders Centers of Southeastern Lung Care in Atlanta, explains, “When you don’t get enough sleep, it drives leptin levels down, which means you don’t feel as satisfied after you eat. Lack of sleep also causes ghrelin levels to rise, which means your appetite is stimulated, so you want more food.”

The hormonal surge of ghrelin translates to overeating and weight gain.

Obesity is an epidemic in the United States and experts estimate that 68% of the adult population is overweight. sleep and weight loss

Doctors also have established that obesity is a primary building block of many diseases, such as diabetes, heart disease and high cholesterol.

Now they realize that the relationship between the calories you consume and the sleep you get determines how efficiently your body uses calories for energy.

A Shorter Sleep Cycle Increases Obesity

If you are genetically predisposed to obesity, not getting enough sleep can trigger weight gain. “The heritability of body weight decreased as sleep duration increased,” said Dr. Nathaniel Watson, associate professor of neurology at the University of Washington and co-director of the UW Medicine Sleep Center.

“There appears to be something about short sleep that creates a permissive environment for expression of obesity-related genes. Studies have shown short sleep is associated with obesity. Our work takes this a step further, showing that short sleep facilitates expression of obesity-related genes.”

More than 1,000 sets of twins were studied and the results showed that fewer than seven hours of sleep increased Body Mass Index (BMI).

Getting deep, rejuvenating sleep isn’t the only answer to balancing leptin and ghrelin levels: environment, regular exercise, stress – both physical and personal — and genetics probably play a role.

“I think we are likely to find that bad sleep matters but that it’s likely to be bad sleep plus some other problems,” says Breus. “One thing I have seen is that once a person is not as tired, they don’t need to rely on sweet foods and high carbohydrate snacks to keep them awake – and that automatically translates into eating fewer calories.”

Improve the Quality of Your Sleep Habits:

  • Figure out the best sleep schedule for your body. Turn off your alarm clock and try going to sleep and waking up naturally over a long weekend. This should tell you when your body most wants and needs to sleep. Once you know your “optimum sleep time,” make it a habit to stick to it.
  • Good nutrition and regular exercise – in combination with better sleeping habits – have proven to be more effective than diet and exercise alone. Also, exercise releases a feeling of euphoria, which in turn relieves stress. Avoid exercising within a couple of hours of bedtime.
  • Avoid alcohol, caffeine and tobacco, which interfere with stable sleep patterns.
  • If you have sleep apnea, consult your doctor. Those who suffer from this sleeping disorder tend to not be rested no matter how many hours of sleep they get. Snoring is often an indicator of this condition, which is more common in males than females.
  • Limit high-sugar, high-fat foods before bed but don’t go to bed hungry. A healthy protein-based snack allows your brain to relax and regulates your blood sugar levels during the night.
  • If you can’t fall asleep, don’t force yourself. Make sure your bedroom is dark enough, at a comfortable temperature, and peaceful. If environment isn’t the problem, consider doing something relaxing that you enjoy (like reading a book) until you simply can’t keep your eyes open.

The bottom line: you can’t deprive your body of sleep without paying the price. It may be years before doctors routinely treat obesity and diabetes with sleep therapy so consider making changes in your sleep habits now. You’ll be ahead of the game.

Helping your body lose weight while you sleep? Now that is a sweet dream!