Can You Gain Weight if You Don't Get Enough Sleep?Apr 15, 2021
If you want to lose weight, you’ve got to hit the gym and clean up your eating, right? Well, yes. But there’s a whole lot more affecting the number on the scale than what we eat and how much we move. In fact, sleep plays a crucial role in helping us achieve all our health and fitness goals.
Sleep impacts our metabolism and hormones, our ability to recover from workouts and daily life, and our weight. Calling it “rest” makes this crucial part of our day seem optional, but sleep is incredibly important for overall health.
Read on to learn more about the connection between sleep and weight gain.
The Connection Between Sleep and Hormones
Sleep — or lack thereof — impacts the regulation of several important hormones, says Dr. Candice Seti, PsyD, CPT. Not getting enough sleep can impact hormone levels in a way that can make it hard to lose weight.
Levels of this appetite-stimulating enzyme decrease significantly while we sleep. “If you are not sleeping enough, your ghrelin levels don’t decrease enough and your body thinks it’s hungry when it’s not,” Seti says. “It will also cause your body to stop burning calories as a response to this perceived hunger.”
This hormone controls hunger and fullness. While we sleep, leptin levels increase, so our brain doesn’t worry about eating. Not enough sleep means not enough leptin. “Over time, this can create constant hunger and a very slow metabolism,” Seti says.
This hormone regulates blood glucose levels. “Not getting enough sleep can cause insulin levels to rise by making your fat cells less sensitive to insulin,” Seti says. “This impairs your body’s ability to burn fat.”
To prepare you for sleep, levels of this stress hormone naturally decrease in the evening. “In individuals that are sleep-deprived, this process is impaired and they maintain higher cortisol levels. Over time, this can lead to insulin resistance,” Seti says.
How Sleep and Weight Loss Are Linked
Getting quality sleep helps set a strong foundation for a healthy day. “Your body’s rest is so vitally important to every aspect of how you perform, feel, and progress,” says Dr. Pietro Luca Ratti, MD, PhD, and a neurologist.
If you’re moving more and watching what you eat to lose weight, adequate healthy rest needs to be part of your plan, too.
“At night, you must refill and recharge so you can continue your forward progress the next day,” says Dr. Ratti.
By factoring sleep into the equation, you might be better able to manage your food choices and power through your workouts. And on top of that, eating well and making time for movement can help you sleep, starting the cycle again.
Does Losing Sleep Make You Gain Weight?
Getting enough sleep can help prime you for weight-loss success for several key reasons, explains Christina Pierpaoli Parker, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow of behavioral medicine at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, and member of the Society of Behavioral Sleep Medicine. “Sufficient sleep tends to reduce our chances of overconsumption, increase our cognitive and emotional bandwidth for making more helpful food choices, keeps our appetitive hormones regulated, and reduces risk for behavioral impulsivity,” she says.
Can Getting Too Much Sleep Affect Weight Loss?
Pierpaoli Parker says both too little or too much sleep may lead to elevated body mass index and obesity — but the connection between extra snooze time and hindered weight-loss efforts likely depends on age. For young adults, the relationship between total sleep time and BMI looks fairly linear.
“But this association progresses into a slightly u-shaped relationship during middle age, when both short and long sleepers demonstrate elevated BMI,” she says. So while extra sleep can help us maintain a healthy body weight in our teens and early 20s, regularly clocking in well over 8 hours a night could negatively affect body weight when we’re middle-age.
How Do I Get More Sleep?
While what works for someone else may not work for you, consider these tried and true strategies to get more sleep: