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The Link between Sleep and Weight Loss, what we need to know

Jun 25, 2021

The Link between Sleep and Weight Loss, what we need to know

Losing weight is challenging, and keeping weight off can be just as difficult. There is a complicated relationship between sleep and body weight, however, several links have emerged that highlight the potential weight loss benefits of getting a good night’s rest and the negative health impacts of sleep deprivation.

Over the past several decades, the amount of time that Americans spend sleeping has steadily decreased, as has the self-reported quality of that sleep. For much of the same time period, the average body mass index (BMI) of Americans increased, reflecting a trend toward higher body weights and elevated rates of obesity. While there is still debate as to the exact causal relationship between sleep and weight loss, the anecdotal evidence seems very strong.

It's true: Being short on sleep can really affect our weight. While we were missing adequate sleep, our body cooked up a perfect recipe for weight gain. When we are short on sleep, it’s easy to lean on a large latte to get moving. We might be tempted to skip exercise (too tired), get takeout for dinner, and then turn in late because we’re uncomfortably full.

If this cascade of events happens a few times each year, no problem. Trouble is, more than a third of Americans aren't getting enough sleep on a regular basis. Yet experts agree that getting enough shut-eye is as important to health, well-being, and our weight as are diet and exercise.

Skimping on sleep sets our brain up to make bad decisions. It dulls activity in the brain’s frontal lobe, the locus of decision-making and impulse control. So it’s a little like being drunk. We don’t have the mental clarity to make good decisions when we are low on sleep.

Plus, when we’re overtired, our brain's reward centers rev up, looking for something that feels good. So while we might be able to squash comfort food cravings when we’re well-rested, our sleep-deprived brain may have trouble saying no to a second slice of cake.

Research tells the story. A study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that when people were starved of sleep, late-night snacking increased, and they were more likely to choose high-carb snacks. In another study done at the University of Chicago, sleep-deprived participants chose snacks with twice as much fat as those who slept at least 8 hours.

A second study found that sleeping too little prompts people to eat bigger portions of all foods, increasing weight gain. And in a review of 18 studies, researchers found that a lack of sleep led to increased cravings for energy-dense, high-carbohydrate foods.

Add it all together and a sleepy brain appears to crave junk food while also lacking the impulse control to say no. Sleep is like nutrition for the brain. Most people need between 7 and 9 hours each night. Get less than that, and our body will react in ways that lead even the most determined dieter straight to Ben & Jerry’s.

Simple recommendation – Get 7 – 9 hours of sleep, consistently. Be Blessed.

Category: Dr. Sterling