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Not Enough Sleep + Hormone Fluctuation = Weight Gain

Updated on July 19, 2017

We all know the keys to weight loss - a well-balanced diet and regular exercise. But, what most people don't know is that you can lose weight while you sleep. How's that possible? Recent medical studies have found that sleep regulates hormonal activity tied to...of all things...appetite!


Researchers have found two hormones in particular that influence our appetite - leptin and ghrelin. Leptin tells our brain when we're full - it's the brakes for our appetite. Ghrelin stimulates our appetite and tells us when to eat - it's the accelerator. Together, they work like a "check and balance" system.

Lack of adequate sleep can increase hunger and affect the body's metabolism in a way that makes weight loss more difficult. Ghrelin levels rise and stimulate your appetite. Leptin levels decrease leading you to feel unsatisfied after you eat. Bottom line: not enough sleep sets the stage for overeating and weight gain.

Our hormones have a 24-hour rhythm. The quantity AND quality of sleep help regulate that rhythm. Seven to nine hours is optimal, depending on an individual's quantitative need. Anything less than seven hours can result in higher body fat, lower metabolism, increased risk of diabetes, increased blood pressure, and risk of heart disease.


When we deprive ourselves of sleep, the release of another hormone increases - cortisol. Cortisol is a 'stress' hormone (think 'flight or fight'). When released in excess, it can make us feel hungry even when we are full. Its function affects the way fat cells respond to the food we eat. Higher cortisol levels can lead to excess fat accumulation.

To make matters worse, the body's ability to metabolize carbohydrates decreases with a sustained loss of sleep. This leads to higher fat storage and increased levels of blood sugar. Excess blood sugar can lead to insulin resistance. This can trigger serious health problems such as obesity, cardiovascular disease, and Type II diabetes.

Those who sleep less than seven hours often weigh more. In a 16-year study, women who slept five hours per night were 32% more likely to experience weight gain (33 lbs. more) and 15% more likely to become obese. And, too much sleep can be just as unhealthy. It, too, can cause weight gain.

Obesity can also be linked to sleep disorders such as sleep apnea. Those with sleep apnea may stop breathing for up to a minute countless times during the night while sleeping. This disruption in breathing prevents necessary deep sleep.

In addition to the physical effects of sleep loss, people experiencing sleep deprivation may have a hard time finding the energy to exercise or even prepare healthy meals. One can become so used to a certain daily level of energy and not even realize more energy is possible by consistently getting a good night's rest.

For those of us who operate with fewer hours of sleep in order to pack more hours of activity into a day, consider another possibility. A better night's sleep may actually increase your productivity within a shorter amount of time. Bottom line: optimal sleep means more energy which leads to increased productivity!


  • eat a healthy, well-balanced diet
  • regular exercise routine (not prior to bed)
  • avoid caffeine after 2pm
  • avoid alcohol
  • avoid naps
  • don't go to bed hungry (only lean protein/vegetables after 7pm)
  • pre-bedtime ritual (warm bath, light reading, calm music, etc.)
  • comfortable sleep environment (no TV, dark, temperature, etc.)
  • regular sleep pattern (sleep/wake the same time every day)

It's important to listen to your body in determining how much sleep is right for you. Check with your doctor if you think you have a sleep disorder. Recognize that the quantity AND quality of sleep you get each night is just as important as the food and exercise choices you make along the way to achieving your optimal weight.



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    • jenny j robert profile image

      jenny j robert 3 years ago

      Well! I tried to learn about the two hormones named as leptin and ghrelin but the information was simply complicated and I gave up. But you presented it nicely.

      I will like to add one thing. One should not go to bed hungry but one should not go to bed immediately after dinner. Go to sleep one hour after the dinner.

      Thanks for sharing!

      jenny j robert!