Updated: August 19, 2022
When it comes to weight loss, you may think you're doing everything right. But despite your best attempts, nothing seems to be changing, and reaching your goal is starting to feel like an elusive dream. You are not alone.
In our sleep-deprived society, weight gain appears to be more the rule than the exception. Nearly one out of three Americans are considered overweight or obese.1 These are not unrelated. Sleep and weight loss are intricately tied to the same hormonal and metabolic processes. The amount of sleep you get impacts those processes and how your metabolism functions. The National Sleep Foundation recommends that adults aim to get between 7-9 hours a night.2
Studies indicate there is a link between insufficient sleep and weight gain in adults.3 Individuals who are sleep deprived, or who suffer from sleep disorders such as obstructive sleep apnea, can experience a misalignment in their circadian rhythm.4 Your circadian rhythm is your 24-hour internal clock that controls your cycle of sleep and wakefulness.
When your circadian rhythm is out of whack, and you are low on sleep, metabolic processes inside your body can be disrupted. This is because during sleep, all your cells undergo a critical process of regeneration, and your hormonal systems take that time to regroup.5 If you skimp on rest, or get poor sleep, your cells don’t have the time they need to recover and your hormones may go askew.
For example, research indicates that even a few sleepless nights may disrupt your body’s response to insulin. Insulin is a hormone your body produces that helps you turn the sugar (glucose) from the foods you eat into energy — or store it for later — and helps to keep your blood sugar levels in check.6 When insulin cannot be properly used by the body, glucose is accumulated in the blood, which can lead to prediabetes and eventually, diabetes, if lifestyle changes are not made.7
A small 2012 study conducted by the University of Chicago School of Medicine found that when insulin levels are disrupted due to a lack of sleep, fat cells, or adipose tissue, are impacted, which help regulate appetite. In the study, researchers discovered that after four nights of sleep deprivation, (4-5 hours of sleep a night) fat cells lost their ability to respond to insulin by 30%, which shows the impact sleep deprivation may have on your health and weight loss efforts.8
Hormones are also important when it comes to regulating your appetite and hunger cues, and they are a vital component in helping you stay on track during your weight loss journey. Furthermore, sleep provides an essential period for your mind and body to recover from busy days and the challenges that come with them. Disrupted metabolic processes may lead to weight gain9 instead of weight loss, despite eating healthy and exercising.
But how does sleep affect weight loss? There are a multitude of different studies which have shown that a good night’s sleep may help you:
Burn more calories through the day
Your sleep patterns and habits may contribute to your weight more than you think. Making sure you get your beauty sleep can serve a much higher purpose than erasing those bags under your eyes. When you’re well-rested, you may burn more calories when you're not moving than someone who is sleep deprived.10 Here’s why: You may have more energy to be physically active than someone who is exhausted after not getting a good night’s sleep. Plus, consistently sleeping well could also help you when you’re not moving by keeping your metabolism revved throughout the day.10
Lose more stored fat
Some studies have shown that people may have different weight loss results, even when they are consuming the same number of calories, depending on their amount of sleep. Those who get 8.5 hours of sleep per night appear to drop more fat than those who were sleep deprived.11
Eat less food overall
The more time you spend sleeping, the less time you'll spend doing other things, like eating. A recent 2022 small study published in JAMA showed that adults who slept 8.5 hours compared to 6.5 hours reduced their energy intake by 270 calories a day.12
Stop mindlessly munching
When you don’t hit the hay for long enough, your body can't adequately control the production of leptin and ghrelin in your body, which are two hormones that help you manage hunger.
When you're suffering from a lack of sleep, the levels of cortisol in your body rise due to stress associated with being tired, which can lead to weight gain.13 If there are high levels of ghrelin and cortisol running through your body, it can shut down the satiation centers of your brain, leaving you feeling ravenous and prompting you to crave unhealthy foods.
Additionally, your complex decision-making center of the brain may be impaired, so that all those cravings you're feeling in the moment, suddenly seem like a great decision. You may be tempted to chow down on unhealthy foods in larger quantities, at times you usually wouldn’t eat, and end up regretting it later.
Exercise more often
Does lacing up your tennis shoes sound like a good idea when you can barely keep your eyes open? Your workout routine may slide to the wayside when you’re tired. Sleep is also critical in helping your muscles repair themselves after a tough workout. (This is why athletes stress the importance of a good night's sleep). If you want to improve your athletic and fitness performance, be sure to get plenty of zzz’s.
When it comes to sleep and weight loss, take your rest seriously. Although it may take you some time to fall asleep, those 7-9 hours a night can make a world of difference when it comes to your health, fitness, clarity, and mood. However, getting more sleep is often easier said than done. Use these sleep tips to help you unplug and catch more zzz’s.
Are you ready to start losing weight and sleeping better? Jenny Craig’s most effective program ever, Max Up, can help you do just that.
This article is based on scientific research and/or other scientific articles and is written by experienced health and lifestyle contributors and fact-checked by Monica Ropar, Nutritionist at Jenny Craig.
Our goal at Jenny Craig is to provide the most up-to-date and objective information on health-related topics, so our readers can make informed decisions based on factual content. All articles undergo an extensive review process, and depending on topic, are reviewed by a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) or Nutritionist, to ensure accuracy.
This article contains trusted sources including scientific, peer-reviewed papers. All references are hyperlinked at the end of the article to take readers directly to the source.