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September 15, 2016

Why Sleep is So Important for Weight Loss

Better Sleep for Better Weight & Health

By: Sarah Muniz, RD, LDN, Avance Care Registered Dietitian

According to the National Sleep Foundation, adults should get between seven and nine hours of sleep each night.1  School-aged children need 10 to 11 hours and teenagers need between 8 ½ to 9 ¼ hours of sleep.1  When we get enough sleep, it allows us to be restored physically, mentally and emotionally.

Do not disturb

However, there are many factors that can affect having a good night’s sleep.  Obesity is a significant risk factor for developing Sleep Disordered Breathing (SDB), which is a group of disorders caused by pauses in breathing during sleep.1 Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) falls under Sleep Disordered Breathing and affects about 17% of the population and their quality of sleep.1

Dietary factors such as consuming large meals close to bedtime can cause indigestion, and drinking large amounts of fluids before bed can cause an individual to wake up often to urinate throughout the night.1  Drinking caffeinated beverages can also interfere with sleep signals.  If someone has difficulties falling to sleep, it’s important to know that caffeine can take up to six to eight hours to wear off completely.

Smoking can also cause a person to have lighter than normal sleep and drinking alcohol can prevent them from going into REM sleep or the deep stages of non-REM sleep.REM stands for rapid eye movement and signifies the dreaming state.  Non-REM stands for non-rapid eye movement and signifies light sleep when the brain waves slow down.  Exercising too close to bedtime can also affect sleep as it can delay the release of melatonin, a hormone that helps us to sleep at night.1  The National Sleep Foundation recommends exercising at least three hours before bedtime to limit this affect.1

Some medications such as pain relievers (may contain caffeine), decongestants and beta-blockers may make it difficult to fall asleep and can cause disturbed sleep.Several environmental factors can cause disrupted sleep as well.  Excessive noise, exposure to lights and uncomfortable temperatures can also affect sleep patterns.1



Chronic lack of a good night’s sleep can have numerous negative effects on one’s health.  For individuals trying to manage their weight, insufficient sleep can change the ratio of leptin and ghrelin production.1  Leptin and ghrelin are two hormones that work to control one’s appetite.  Leptin is secreted by adipose tissue and is known to inhibit food intake. Ghrelin, known as the “hunger hormone,” is secreted by the stomach and helps to regulate appetite.  Ghrelin levels decrease after eating and increase as hunger increases. It is suppressed by daytime exercise but increased by evening exercise, potentially leading one to eat more if they exercise at night.  Studies done concerning sleep deprivation have shown that a loss of sleep can cause an increase in the ratio of ghrelin to leptin, increasing one’s appetite and specifically increasing cravings for carbohydrates.  One study performed by the Mayo Clinic of healthy young adults found that those who had their sleep shortened by one-third of the time ate more than 500 extra calories per day compared with controls.

Insufficient sleep also alters blood glucose and insulin metabolism (impaired glucose tolerance), which can increase one’s risk for developing Type 2 Diabetes.Furthermore, stress hormones including adrenaline and cortisol are released at an increased rate during sleep deprivation, which increases the risk of developing cardiovascular disease.  SDB significantly increases risk for heart attack, stroke and overall mortality in adults.  OSA is an independent risk factor for stroke and diabetes.

Insufficient sleep also interferes with memory, learning, attention span and mood, and suppresses our immune response to infection.1 Furthermore, lack of sleep can interfere with the release of growth hormone, affecting muscle development, tissue repair and fertility.

After realizing the importance of a good night’s sleep, let’s examine a healthy sleep hygiene (good sleep habits) checklist.1

  • Go to bed at the same time each night and wake up at the same time every morning—even on the weekends.
  • Exercise early in the day for 30 to 60 minutes on most days of the week.
  • Avoid caffeine after noon, as it stimulates the nervous system, interfering with falling asleep and staying asleep by increasing heart rate, blood pressure, and adrenaline levels.
  • Limit alcohol as it interferes with sleep.  Drink in moderation.
  • Limit eating and drinking to small quantities before bedtime.
  • Discuss with your doctor or pharmacist alternatives to medicines that interfere with sleep.
  • Get 30 minutes of sunlight exposure, preferably in the morning hours, most days of the week.
  • Keep your bedroom quiet, dark, and cool (between 54˚F and 75˚F).
  • Avoid watching TV or sitting in front of a computer for at least one hour before bedtime.
  • Take a nap if needed, but not for more than 20 minutes or after 3 PM.
  • Don’t lie awake in bed for more than 20 minutes. If you can’t sleep, get up and do something relaxing such as reading a book until you feel sleepy again.
  • See your family doctor or a sleep specialist if you continually feel sleepy during the day despite sleeping enough hours at night, consistently need more than 30 minutes to fall asleep at night, snore loudly or frequently, or awaken frequently or for long periods most nights of the week.
  • Ask your doctor about prescription and over-the-counter sleep medications. They may be helpful in the short term and in certain circumstances.  Also, it may be helpful to work with a psychologist on behavioral interventions to help with chronic insomnia.
  • Consider melatonin only if you’re a shift worker who must sleep during the day instead of at night. Melatonin appears to promote sleep only during the day.

In addition to following a healthy sleep hygiene routine, if you are overweight or obese, it is recommended to try and lose weight as weight loss can decrease the risk and severity of SDB and OSA or decrease their severity if you have already been diagnosed with either.And, when you sleep better,  you subsequently are likely to eat better.  So, the two go hand in hand!

A good night’s sleep can do wonders for your health and for your waistline as well!  So, take a moment to examine your sleep routine and see what positive changes you can incorporate starting tonight!


  1. Kondracki, Nancy. The Link Between Sleep and Weight Gain — Research Shows Poor Sleep Quality Raises Obesity and Chronic Disease Risk.  Today’s Dietitian. Vol. 14 No. 6 P. 48.  Accessed on 7/24/2016.




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