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Why Is Sleep Important For Weight Loss?

Last updated Sept. 23, 2016

Approved by: Krish Tangella MD, MBA, FCAP

Sleeping habits can have an impact on your weight. Several research publications have demonstrated the correlation between insufficient sleep cycles and weight gain.

You might be one of the millions of Americans who struggle with weight loss on a daily basis. But what you might not know is that your sleeping habits have more of an impact on your weight than you may realize. Several research publications have demonstrated the correlation between insufficient sleep cycles and weight gain.

There are still several unanswered questions concerning sleep and weight loss. However, researchers are making strides to assess just how much of an impact sleep has. A 2014 study lead at Brigham Young University in Utah analyzed the sleep patterns and body fat of 330 young adult women for one week. The study demonstrated that the women with inconsistent sleep patterns and poor sleep efficiency were linked to having excess fat on the body.

  • Sleeping less than 6.5 hours and more than 8.5 hours each night was associated with higher body fat. Women, who slept between 8 and 8.5 hours consistently each night, had the lowest percentage of body fat.
  • Sleep patterns with greater variation, such as 90 minutes, had higher body fat than those who had less variation in their cycles, such as 60 minutes or less.
  • The largest effect was seen with women who woke up at the same time every morning and every day of the week.
  • The results also indicated that young women who have consistent sleep cycles that allow for adequate sleep may be significant in altering the risk of excess body fat.

It has also been questioned whether adequate sleep increased the capacity for weight loss in those who are already engaged in a weight loss program. The University of Arizona published a study in 2012 that examined the link between quantity and quality of sleep and weight loss. A group of overweight and obese women ranging from ages 35 to 55 years, who were actively involved in a weight loss program, were analyzed based on their sleep patterns and body fat percentage. The researchers found that the women who had sufficient and quality sleep increased their chance of weight loss success by 33 percent. This statistic is strongly indicative of the effect of sleep on body fat maintenance and loss.

Various studies have been steered towards analyzing sleep’s effect on hormone levels associated with hunger and satiety. Leptin and Gherlin, the hormones that are responsible for the regulation of food intake, inform the brain of the body’s current energy state. The hormone leptin is increased or decreased in response to increased calorie intake or shortage, respectively. Gherlin is a substance produced primarily by the stomach that is known to stimulate appetite.

The University of Chicago published a study in 2004 involving the association of sleep restriction in young men and resulting gherlin and leptin levels. The study compared men who had slept 4 hours at night, versus those who had slept 10 hours. The participants that slept for 4 hours had leptin levels that were about 18% lower and gherlin levels that were 28% higher than those who had slept for a total of 10 hours. Individuals, who were restricted adequate amounts of sleep, experienced a 23% higher hunger rating for carbohydrate rich foods than those who had enough sleep. These findings are indicative that decreases in leptin and increases in gherlin levels have a strong correlation for increased appetite during the day, and in turn, for weight gain. 

If you are currently struggling with weight loss and excess body fat, it is clearly imperative to determine whether you are getting sufficient sleep each night. Although a consistent sleep cycle is not the only aspect involved in successful weight loss, adjusting your sleep patterns and understanding the importance of sleep could give you the extra boost your body needs to lose that excess fat.


Bailey BW, Allen MD, LeCheminant JD, Tucker LA, Errico WK, Christensen WF, Hill MD. Objectively measured sleep patterns in young adult women and the relationship to adiposity. American Journal of Health Promotion. 2014;29(1):46-54. 

Thomson CA, Morrow KL, Flatt SW, Wertheim BC, Perfect MM, Ravia JJ, Sherwood NE, Karanja N, Rock CL. Relationship between sleep quality and quantity and weight loss in women participating in a weight-loss intervention trial. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2012;20(7):1419-25. 

Spiegel K, Tasali E, Penev P, Van Cauter E. Brief Communication: Sleep Curtailment in Healthy Young Men Is Associated with Decreased Leptin Levels, Elevated Ghrelin Levels, and Increased Hunger and Appetite. Annals of Internal Medicine. 2004;141(11):846-850.

Haiken, M. Change Your Sleep Schedule To Lose Weight, Study Shows [Internet]. Forbes; 2013 Nov 21 [cited Nov 15]. Available from: http://www.forbes.com/sites/melaniehaiken/2013/11/21/easiest-weight-loss-tip-ever-change-your-sleep-schedule/

Helpful Peer-Reviewed Medical Articles:

Taheri, S., Lin, L., Austin, D., Young, T., & Mignot, E. (2004). Short sleep duration is associated with reduced leptin, elevated ghrelin, and increased body mass index. PLoS Med, 1(3), e62.

Elfhag, K., & Rössner, S. (2005). Who succeeds in maintaining weight loss? A conceptual review of factors associated with weight loss maintenance and weight regain. Obesity reviews, 6(1), 67-85.

Wing, R. R., & Phelan, S. (2005). Long-term weight loss maintenance. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 82(1), 222S-225S.

Knutson, K. L., & Van Cauter, E. (2008). Associations between sleep loss and increased risk of obesity and diabetes. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1129(1), 287-304.

Knutson, K. L., Spiegel, K., Penev, P., & Van Cauter, E. (2007). The metabolic consequences of sleep deprivation. Sleep medicine reviews,11(3), 163-178.

Reviewed and Approved by a member of the DoveMed Editorial Board
First uploaded: Sept. 23, 2016
Last updated: Sept. 23, 2016