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The Link Between Sleep & Weight Loss: Exploring the Connection

Sep 3, 2023
The Link Between Sleep & Weight Loss: Exploring the Connection

Sleep disruption affects your appetite and your ability to lose weight. If you’re counting calories, exercising regularly, and managing stress but still not losing weight, a lack of high-quality sleep could be the reason.

Sleep disruption can slow fat loss and make weight loss difficult. Several studies show a correlation between inadequate sleep duration and weight gain, but not causation.1,2  Meaning that statistically more people are sleep-deprived and overweight than not, but there may be other factors that cause sleep disruption and weight gain.

 It has been difficult for researchers to determine how hormonal, psychological, or behavioral factors link sleep and weight loss. Because complex feedback loops regulate both sleep and body weight, all of these factors are likely to contribute to weight gain as a result of inadequate sleep.

Does sleep affect metabolism?

Changes in adenosine levels throughout the day and circadian rhythms regulate sleep. Adenosine levels rise throughout the day, increasing sleepiness. When adenosine levels reach a threshold, you feel tired. Adenosine levels decrease while you sleep. Caffeine temporarily increases wakefulness by blocking adenosine receptors.

Circadian rhythms are generated in a specialized part of the brain. Your circadian rhythm is synchronized with environmental cues, such as the light-dark cycle. Circadian rhythm abnormalities can result in metabolic dysregulation. However, the connection is not fully understood.3

Metabolism is the sum of all chemical reactions that occur in the body. Energy-producing reactions give you the energy you need to grow, reproduce, and respond to your environment.

Metabolic reactions can be grouped into two categories:

  • Catabolic: reactions that break down food to obtain energy and produce raw materials.
  • Anabolic: reactions that use energy and raw materials from food to build muscle and other body tissues.

Metabolic reactions help the body maintain homeostasis, a stable internal environment.

Prolonged sleep deprivation or disruption can decrease your metabolic rate and cause metabolic dysregulation. This means that you burn calories more slowly. It can also cause increased oxidative stress, glucose intolerance, inflammation, and glucose resistance.4

woman holding sign that says hormone balance

How do hormones affect sleep and weight?

Sleep deprivation increases hunger and decreases satiety by influencing hormone release. The endocrine glands secrete chemicals into your bloodstream that are known as hormones. Hormones bind to receptors on the surface of target organs or receptors inside cells. Several hormones interact to control hunger, but two important ones are leptin and ghrelin. Ghrelin stimulates hunger, whereas leptin makes you feel full.

The link between ghrelin levels and appetite is not fully understood. However, poor sleep is associated with increased ghrelin levels, which may increase hunger and calorie consumption.5

In one study, young men who slept 4 hours per night had ghrelin levels (hunger hormone) that were 28% higher than men who slept 10 hours and leptin (full hormone) levels that were 18% lower. These men reported that overall hunger increased by 24%, and appetite increased by 23%. They consumed more calorie-dense and high-carbohydrate foods.6 Leptin hormone may be an important link between sleep, circadian rhythms, and metabolism.4

How else can poor sleep cause weight gain?

If you are awake longer, you have more time to eat, and sleep deprivation may enhance the pleasure and reward associated with eating. This may lead to an increase in snacking. Several studies have found that sleep deprivation can lead to overeating, typically 300–550 kcal more per day.2 In one study, sleep-deprived individuals consumed an average of 20% more calories per day than when they got enough sleep.7

Lack of sleep causes increased fatigue, which can undermine motivation to eat healthier and exercise more. Researchers found that sleep-deprived study participants were more likely to choose high-carbohydrate and high-fat snacks and consume larger portions of food.7

women in bed sleeping with alarm clock

How many hours of sleep are best for weight loss?

In a ten-year study, researchers found that the average body mass index for people who slept less than six hours per night or over nine hours per night was higher than that of those who slept between six and nine hours per night. This relationship between sleep duration and weight gain was not found in older adults.8

In a study of sleep habits in older adults, sleep duration of less than 5 hours was associated with a 40% increase in obesity when compared to adults sleeping 7 to 8 hours.9 A review of 11 other studies found a similar association between short sleep (defined as 5 to 6 hours) and obesity.10

When researchers reviewed 30 scientific studies, they found that for every one-hour reduction in sleep, adults had a 0.35 kg/m2 increase in body mass index (BMI).11

Will I lose weight faster if I sleep more?

Adequate sleep is essential for maintaining your weight and overall health. Most sleep experts recommend between 7 and 9 hours of sleep each night. Inadequate sleep has been linked to increased weight gain, a higher body mass index, and obesity. However, sleeping more than 7 to 9 hours a day will not help you lose more weight.

A smiling woman lying in bed; quality sleep and weight loss are related

How can you improve your sleep and weight loss?

Evaluate your current sleep habits to determine whether you can improve your sleep hygiene. Healthy sleep habits include:

  • Set a sleep schedule and follow it even on the weekends.
  • Establish a bedtime routine that does not involve screen exposure in the hour before sleep.
  • Sleep in a dark, cool room.
  • Hydrate earlier in the day to reduce nighttime awakenings.
  • Safely expose yourself to sunlight first thing in the morning to help regulate circadian rhythms.
  • Avoid caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol use before bedtime.
  • Avoid heavy meals later in the day, especially if you are prone to heartburn.
  • If you are concerned that you have obstructive sleep apnea or other sleep disorders, discuss your concerns with your doctor.
  • Use meditation, yoga, or deep-breathing exercises to manage stress.

There is extensive scientific evidence linking sleep deprivation to weight gain and obesity. While studies show a correlation between lack of sleep and increased weight gain, a cause-and-effect relationship has not been established.12

To complicate matters, the inverse relationship may also be true. Having obesity can cause poor sleep. Obesity is associated with sleep apnea, heartburn, and depression, all of which are known to disrupt sleep.

If you have obesity and are interested in discussing your options for prescription weight loss medications, contact an Invigor Medical treatment specialist.

Get started today with a monthly subscription of Semaglutide.

The Link Between Sleep & Weight Loss: Exploring the Connection
While we strive to always provide accurate, current, and safe advice in all of our articles and guides, it’s important to stress that they are no substitute for medical advice from a doctor or healthcare provider. You should always consult a practicing professional who can diagnose your specific case. The content we’ve included in this guide is merely meant to be informational and does not constitute medical advice.

The Link Between Sleep & Weight Loss: Exploring the Connection

Leann Poston, M.D.

Dr. Leann Poston is a licensed physician in the state of Ohio who holds an M.B.A. and an M. Ed. She is a full-time medical communications writer and educator who writes and researches for Invigor Medical. Dr. Poston lives in the Midwest with her family. She enjoys traveling and hiking. She is an avid technology aficionado and loves trying new things.


  • Wang X, Sparks JR, Bowyer KP, Youngstedt SD. Influence of sleep restriction on weight loss outcomes associated with caloric restriction. Sleep. 2018 May 1;41(5):10.1093/sleep/zsy027. doi: 10.1093/sleep/zsy027. PMID: 29438540; PMCID: PMC8591680.
  • St-Onge MP. Sleep-obesity relation: underlying mechanisms and consequences for treatment. Obes Rev. 2017 Feb;18 Suppl 1:34-39. doi: 10.1111/obr.12499. PMID: 28164452.
  • Sharma S, Kavuru M. Sleep and metabolism: an overview. Int J Endocrinol. 2010;2010:270832. doi: 10.1155/2010/270832. Epub 2010 Aug 2. PMID: 20811596; PMCID: PMC2929498.
  • Westerterp-Plantenga, M. (2016). Sleep, circadian rhythm and body weight: Parallel developments. Proceedings of the Nutrition Society, 75(4), 431-439. doi:10.1017/S0029665116000227
  • Briançon-Marjollet A, Weiszenstein M, Henri M, Thomas A, Godin-Ribuot D, Polak J. The impact of sleep disorders on glucose metabolism: endocrine and molecular mechanisms. Diabetol Metab Syndr. 2015 Mar 24;7:25. doi: 10.1186/s13098-015-0018-3. PMID: 25834642; PMCID: PMC4381534.
  • Theorell-Haglöw J, Berglund L, Berne C, Lindberg E. Both habitual short sleepers and long sleepers are at greater risk of obesity: a population-based 10-year follow-up in women. Sleep Med. 2014 Oct;15(10):1204-11. doi: 10.1016/j.sleep.2014.02.014. Epub 2014 Jun 12. PMID: 25113417.
  • Cappuccio FP, Taggart FM, Kandala NB, et al.. Meta-analysis of short sleep duration and obesity in children and adults. Sleep 2008;31:619–26. 10.1093/sleep/31.5.619
  • Xiao Q, Arem H, Moore SC, et al.. A large prospective investigation of sleep duration, weight change, and obesity in the NIH-AARP Diet and Health Study cohort. Am J Epidemiol 2013;178:1600–10. 10.1093/aje/kwt180
  • Wu Y, Zhai L, Zhang D. Sleep duration and obesity among adults: a meta-analysis of prospective studies. Sleep Med 2014;15:1456–62. 10.1016/j.sleep.2014.07.018
  • Cooper CB, Neufeld EV, Dolezal BA, Martin JL. Sleep deprivation and obesity in adults: a brief narrative review. BMJ Open Sport Exerc Med. 2018 Oct 4;4(1):e000392. doi: 10.1136/bmjsem-2018-000392. PMID: 30364557; PMCID: PMC6196958.


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