What You Need to Know About Sleep and Weight

When trying to lose weight, we often focus all of our efforts on diet and exercise. However, getting enough restful sleep is just as important for achieving and maintaining a healthy bodyweight. Sleep deprivation can seriously hinder your weight loss efforts, thanks to the connection between sleep and appetite regulation.

How are Hormones, Sleep and Appetite Connected?

Two key hormones are involved in hunger: leptin and ghrelin. Leptin is a hormone released from our fat cells that suppresses appetite and helps us feel sated. Ghrelin, on the other hand, is a hormone produced in the gut that increases hunger. Therefore, it makes sense that obesity is linked to decreased leptin (satiety) and increased ghrelin (hunger) levels. Keeping these hormones in balance is key and getting high quality sleep can help with this balancing act. The National Sleep Foundation recommends that adults get between 7 and 9 hours per night for adults (in most of our dreams, right?). 

Have you ever noticed how hungry you are following a night of poor sleep? A study published in Obesity found that ghrelin, the appetite stimulating hormone, was significantly increased following a period of sleep restriction compared to a normal night of sleep. Elevated ghrelin can lead to increased caloric intake throughout the day, especially in the form of energy-dense snacks (hello french fries, cookies and candy). Lack of sleep is also associated with lower leptin levels, which will affect your body’s natural ability to suppress hunger even after eating a large meal.

 A scientific review of the current research found that short duration sleepers (less than 5-6 hours per night) consistently favored more snack foods throughout the day over conventional meals, and the snacks were typically energy dense and higher in carbohydrates, fat and calories. To top it all off, you may also might find it more difficult to exercise following a night of poor sleep.

The Bottom Line

The exact mechanisms of how hormones are affected by sleep and our circadian rhythm are being continuously researched, but we do know that a lack of sleep is linked to major metabolic disorders, increased appetite, decreased insulin sensitivity, poor diet choices, and less exercise. This means sleep deprivation affects our normal physical behavior as well as our body’s natural physiology, especially as it relates to metabolism. If you are trying to lose weight, maintain your weight or just stay healthy, make sleep a priority and not just an afterthought in your health and self care regimen.

By: Lindsay Allen, Dietetic Intern and MS Candidate in Clinical Nutrition at NYU