Minding the Body

The guide to health and happiness

Sleep Helps You Lose Weight Successfully

Five links between enough good sleep and lasting weight loss.

scale

CDC (Debora Cartagena)

Sleeping long enough and well enough may help you shed unwanted pounds, based on one of the first large studies to look at this issue. Once you lose weight, the study suggested that getting enough good sleep may help you keep it off for the long term.

Good Night, Sleep Tight, Feel Light

The research—led by public health professor Cynthia Thomson, PhD, RD, at the University of Arizona—included 245 overweight women who participated in a two-year study of a popular diet plan. “Success” was defined as losing at least 10% of their starting body weight. Women who slept seven or fewer hours per night or who rated their sleep quality as fair to poor were less likely to reach this goal in six months, compared to those who slept longer and better.

The long-term results were similar. Women who slept more than seven hours per night or who rated their sleep quality as very good were more likely to maintain their weight loss for up to 18 months.

5 Links Between Sleep and Weight

There are several possible reasons why getting your zzzs might help you get into your jeans:

  • Appetite-control hormones. Sleep deprivation has been associated with decreased leptin, an appetite-suppressing hormone, and increased ghrelin, an appetite-stimulating hormone. In the 2004 study that first sparked interest in this area, researchers found that restricting the sleep of healthy, young men for just two nights led to changes in these hormones along with greater hunger and carb cravings. Later research has suggested that it might actually be the combination of sleep loss and stress that throws appetite hormones out of whack.
  • Late-night snack attacks. In one small study, people who slept only five-and-a-half hours nightly snacked more, particularly on high-carb foods, than those who stayed in bed longer.
  • Increase in body fatness. In another small study, overweight adults on a diet who slept five-and-a-half hours per night for two weeks lost less body fat and more lean body mass than those who slept longer. Sleep-deprived dieters also had a lower resting metabolic rate—the number of calories used by the body to pump blood, breathe air, maintain body temperature, and support all the other processes needed to stay alive.
  • Decrease in physical activity. There may also be an indirect connection: Regular exercise promotes both weight loss and better sleep. For optimal sleep, the National Sleep Foundation recommends exercising at least three hours before bedtime, ideally in the late afternoon for most people.
  • Health-conscious lifestyle. A balanced diet, regular exercise, and plenty of sleep are all part of a bigger pattern of being good to yourself. That’s the real key to taking charge of the scale and, more importantly, your health and well-being.

Linda Wasmer Andrews is a writer who specializes in health, psychology, and the intersection between the two. Follow her on Twitter. Like her on Facebook.

Linda Wasmer Andrews is a health writer with a master's degree in health psychology.

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