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Correlation between sleep and weight gain

Not getting enough quality sleep can have many negative health effects — including unwanted weight gain. From increased appetite to metabolic dysregulation, here is what science has to say about the correlation between sleep and the number on the scale.

Sarah Achleithner, health and wellness writer
5 mins
Many of us struggle to get a full night’s rest, and while it may not seem like a big deal to miss an hour here or there, not getting enough shuteye can negatively impact a multitude of factors — including your mood, attention, and creativity — and increase your risk high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, and obesity [12]. 
Since sleep is intimately connected to immunity, memory, and numerous hormonal and metabolic processes, it’s an important factor to consider when evaluating your overall health, particularly if you’re experiencing unwanted weight gain or are having a hard time losing weight.
Here’s what science says about how much sleep you need and how not getting enough can affect your weight — plus some tips to help you achieve a restful night’s sleep. 

How much sleep do you need?

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, adults between the ages of 18 to 60 need at least seven hours of sleep per night [7]. Yet, despite these recommendations, it’s estimated that one-third of Americans do not consistently get enough sleep [9, 13]. This lack of sleep could have drastic consequences for public health, as chronic diseases associated with sleep deprivation (such as weight gain, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and depression) are only increasing in prevalence in the United States [8]. 
If you struggle to fall (or stay) asleep, here are some natural supplement options that might help.
Stepping on a scale

How sleep affects weight

Prioritizing at least seven hours of sleep each night is a great way to take charge of your health, especially in regard to weight loss. Studies have linked better sleep with greater weight loss and fat loss for adults who are overweight or obese and trying to lead healthier lifestyles [2]. 
On the contrary, not getting enough shuteye will make weight loss more difficult and possibly even promote weight gain, all thanks to reduced physical activity, enhanced cravings, and a slower metabolism. Let’s dive deeper into the science of how a lack of sleep can affect the number on the scale.

Sedentary behavior

If you’ve ever bagged out on a workout after a crummy night of sleep, it’s probably no surprise that getting less sleep is associated with a lack of physical activity the next day [3]. If you’re not getting enough rest to restore your energy levels, staying active becomes more difficult, which can impede weight loss and even promote further weight gain. Moreover, evidence shows that having a sedentary lifestyle is linked to numerous potential health risks, including increased all-cause mortality, obesity, cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, hypertension, and depression [4]. 

Enhanced cravings

Not sleeping enough can also lead to increased cravings for all the wrong kinds of foods. This is because sleep deprivation impacts both food preferences and the body’s hunger-satiety signaling system. Reduced sleep impairs your ability to fight cravings for highly processed and palatable foods due to an increase in activation of the endocannabinoid system (a key part of pathways involved in appetite and food intake), and levels of ghrelin, the body’s hunger hormone [5, 6].  This can translate to increased food intake, particularly of hard-to-resist sweets and high-calorie snacks. 

Metabolic dysregulation 

Research shows that a lack of sleep also causes metabolic dysregulation, which can include disruptions in glucose utilization and storage, insulin sensitivity, and/or lipid metabolism [14]. These changes in metabolic function are tied to the sympathetic overstimulation, hormonal imbalances, and inflammation that occur as a result of sleep deprivation. In turn, these metabolic effects wreak havoc on your body and contribute to weight gain [15].
Bed with white sheets and white pillows

Sleep hygiene tips

Forming positive habits around bedtime can make a big difference in the quantity and quality of sleep you get, and can lead to improved health, easier weight loss, and reduced weight gain. Here are some science-backed tips to achieve good sleep hygiene [11]:

Stick to a schedule.

Going to bed and waking up at the same time every day will help regulate your body clock, whereas sporadic bedtimes and wake-ups can make it harder to fall asleep and get going in the morning.

Create a peaceful environment.

Your bedroom should be a relaxing space, so try to keep it dark, cool, and quiet before getting into bed. A good mattress, comfortable pillows, and soft sheets also contribute to a peaceful nighttime experience.

Put devices away.

Looking at your phone or watching TV right before bed can negatively impact your sleep quality and make it more difficult for your mind to wind down. Try to limit (or stop) using technology an hour before bed to aid in better sleep.

Avoid stimulants.

Since caffeine is a stimulant, it’s recommended to stop consumption four to six hours before bedtime to maintain good sleep quality. Alcohol and nicotine also have a negative impact on the quantity and quality of sleep. Cutting back on all of these will greatly improve your chances of getting a good night’s rest. 

Stay physically active.

Getting movement during the day can help you fall asleep more readily at night. However, night workouts can actually wake your body up, so it’s best to avoid intense exercise 90 minutes to 3 hours before bedtime [16].

Summary

Sleep is one of the most impactful ways to improve health, yet it’s estimated that one-third of Americans fall short of the recommended 7 hours of sleep each night. A lack of sleep is correlated with numerous negative health consequences (particularly weight gain), as sleep deprivation can lead to sedentary behavior, increased appetite, and enhanced cravings for sugary foods. While sleep supplements are an option for a better night’s rest, forming positive habits around bedtime can make a significant difference in the quantity and quality of sleep. Reducing screen time, staying active, and sticking to a schedule are just a few ways to improve sleep hygiene, reduce weight gain, and better your overall health and wellbeing. 
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Key Takeaways

  • Inadequate sleep has been linked to increased incidence of obesity, high blood pressure, and other chronic metabolic disorders [1].
  • Getting less sleep at night is associated with more sedentary behavior the next day, increased hunger levels, and cravings for high-calorie foods.
  • Adults between the ages of 18 to 60 need at least 7 hours of sleep per night [7]. Getting less than this has been shown to increase your risk of weight gain, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and depression [8].
  • Forming positive habits around bedtime can make a significant difference in the quantity (and quality) of sleep, as well as your overall health and wellbeing.

References

  1. Spivey A. (2010). Lose sleep, gain weight: another piece of the obesity puzzle. Environmental health perspectives118(1), A28–A33. https://doi.org/10.1289/ehp.118-a28 
  2. Kline, C. E., Chasens, E. R., Bizhanova, Z., Sereika, S. M., Buysse, D. J., Imes, C. C., Kariuki, J. K., Mendez, D. D., Cajita, M. I., Rathbun, S. L., & Burke, L. E. (2021). The association between sleep health and weight change during a 12-month behavioral weight loss intervention. International journal of obesity (2005)45(3), 639–649. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41366-020-00728-8 
  3. Thosar, S. S., Bhide, M. C., Katlaps, I., Bowles, N. P., Shea, S. A., & McHill, A. W. (2021). Shorter Sleep Predicts Longer Subsequent Day Sedentary Duration in Healthy Midlife Adults, but Not in Those with Sleep Apnea. Nature and science of sleep13, 1411–1418. https://doi.org/10.2147/NSS.S322459 
  4. Park, J. H., Moon, J. H., Kim, H. J., Kong, M. H., & Oh, Y. H. (2020). Sedentary Lifestyle: Overview of Updated Evidence of Potential Health Risks. Korean journal of family medicine41(6), 365–373. https://doi.org/10.4082/kjfm.20.0165 
  5. Broussard, J. L., Kilkus, J. M., Delebecque, F., Abraham, V., Day, A., Whitmore, H. R., & Tasali, E. (2016). Elevated ghrelin predicts food intake during experimental sleep restriction. Obesity (Silver Spring, Md.)24(1), 132–138. https://doi.org/10.1002/oby.21321 
  6. Hanlon, E. C., Tasali, E., Leproult, R., Stuhr, K. L., Doncheck, E., de Wit, H., Hillard, C. J., & Van Cauter, E. (2016). Sleep Restriction Enhances the Daily Rhythm of Circulating Levels of Endocannabinoid 2-Arachidonoylglycerol. Sleep39(3), 653–664. https://doi.org/10.5665/sleep.5546 
  7. Watson NF, Badr MS, Belenky G, et al. Recommended amount of sleep for a healthy adult: a joint consensus statement of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and Sleep Research Society. Sleep. 2015;38(6):843–844. 
  8. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2018, August 8). CDC - sleep and chronic disease - sleep and sleep disorders. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved September 15, 2021, from https://www.cdc.gov/sleep/about_sleep/chronic_disease.html
  9. Barnes, C. M., & Drake, C. L. (2015). Prioritizing Sleep Health: Public Health Policy Recommendations. Perspectives on psychological science: a journal of the Association for Psychological Science10(6), 733–737. https://doi.org/10.1177/1745691615598509 
  10. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2014, December 10). CDC - Key sleep disorders - sleep and sleep disorders. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved September 15, 2021, from https://www.cdc.gov/sleep/about_sleep/key_disorders.html
  11. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2016, July 15). CDC - sleep Hygiene tips - sleep and sleep disorders. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved September 15, 2021, from https://www.cdc.gov/sleep/about_sleep/sleep_hygiene.html
  12. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021, January 4). How does sleep affect your heart health? Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/bloodpressure/sleep.htm.
  13. Why is sleep so important to weight loss? Sleep Foundation. (2020, October 9). Retrieved September 16, 2021, from https://www.sleepfoundation.org/physical-health/weight-loss-and-sleep. 
  14. Depner, C. M., Stothard, E. R., & Wright, K. P., Jr (2014). Metabolic consequences of sleep and circadian disorders. Current diabetes reports, 14(7), 507. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11892-014-0507-z
  15. Sharma, S., & Kavuru, M. (2010). Sleep and metabolism: an overview. International journal of endocrinology, 2010, 270832. https://doi.org/10.1155/2010/270832
  16. Saidi, O., Davenne, D., Lehorgne, C., & Duché, P. (2020). Effects of timing of moderate exercise in the evening on sleep and subsequent dietary intake in lean, young, healthy adults: randomized crossover study. European journal of applied physiology, 120(7), 1551–1562. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00421-020-04386-6