Key facts about the link between sleep and weight loss

Quality sleep influences hormonal balance, eating behaviours, energy levels, and cognitive processes. Supplied image.

Quality sleep influences hormonal balance, eating behaviours, energy levels, and cognitive processes. Supplied image.

Published Feb 2, 2024


The quality of sleep is essential for effective weight loss, experts believe.

Health coverage provider Affinity Health added that the link between the two is often overlooked and that quality sleep is crucial for our overall well-being.

“During sleep, our bodies undergo important processes that regulate functions and promote good health,” CEO Murray Hewlett explained.

“It allows for repair and restoration, supports brain function, boosts the immune system, and aids in stress management. Prioritising sleep can positively impact overall health and well-being."

Hewlett added that quality sleep also influences hormonal balance, eating behaviours, energy levels, and cognitive processes.

“Its impact can also be profound regarding weight management," he said.

Sleep duration matters

Hewlett stressed one of the most crucial aspects of the sleep-weight loss connection is the duration of your sleep.

He explained that several studies have indicated that individuals who consistently get less than seven hours of sleep per night are more prone to gaining weight over some time.

Quality sleep influences hormonal balance, eating behaviours, energy levels, and cognitive processes. Supplied image.

“It is important to prioritise proper sleep patterns to maintain a healthy weight,” he insisted.

“When you're sleep-deprived, your body craves quick energy sources, often reaching for sugary snacks and high-carbohydrate foods.”

He added that sleep deprivation also impairs the brain’s judgment and decision-making abilities, making it more challenging to resist unhealthy food choices during waking hours.

He cited an example of a study published in the scientific journal “Nature Communications”, which found that sleep-deprived individuals were more prone to consume bigger food portions.

The importance of quality sleep

Apart from the quantity of sleep, Hewlett stressed that the quality of your sleep also plays a significant role in weight management.

“Poor sleep quality can disrupt the body’s hunger hormones, causing an increase in appetite and cravings, particularly for high-calorie, sugary and fatty foods.”

He added that ghrelin, the hormone responsible for stimulating appetite, increases with poor sleep quality, while leptin, which signals fullness, decreases.

The impact of sleep on the metabolism

Hewlett explained that sleep is closely linked to metabolism, which is the chemical process by which the body turns the food and beverages we consume, into the energy we require to thrive.

Metabolism also includes all of our collective activities, from breathing to exercising and all in between.

And while certain activities, such as exercise, can temporarily boost metabolism, sleep does not have the same ability.

“During sleep, metabolism slows by roughly 15%, reaching its lowest point in the morning,” Hewlett said.

He added that many studies have demonstrated that sleep deprivation – whether caused by self-induction, insomnia, untreated sleep apnea, or other sleep disorders – can cause metabolic dysregulation.

Emotional eating

Sleep plays a crucial role in regulating emotions and managing stress, Hewlett said.

“When you’re sleep-deprived, you’re more likely to experience mood swings, increased stress and heightened emotions.

“These changes can lead to emotional eating, where food is used to cope with stress or negative emotions,” he said.

Hewlett added that emotional eating often involves indulging in comfort foods, which are high in calories and low in nutritional value.

“This habit can contribute to weight gain and hinder your weight-loss efforts.”

Hormonal changes

Sleep deprivation disrupts the body’s hormonal balance, affecting hunger and stress hormones like cortisol, Hewlett warned.

“Elevated cortisol levels, often seen in sleep-deprived individuals, can promote fat storage, particularly around the abdominal area.”

He added that inadequate sleep can also decrease growth hormone levels, which affects muscle growth and fat metabolism.

Here are the strategies for improving sleep and promoting weight loss

Create a consistent sleep schedule

Try to sleep and wake up simultaneously every day, especially on weekends.

“Consistency aids in the regulation of your body’s internal clock,” Hewlett said.

Create a relaxing bedtime routine

If you want to improve your sleep quality, Hewlett recommends incorporating calming pre-sleep rituals into your routine.

“These may include reading a book, taking a warm bath, or practising relaxation techniques such as meditation or deep breathing exercises.

“By consistently adopting these habits, you can create a peaceful, rejuvenating environment that fosters better sleep,” he said.

Optimise your sleep environment

Hewlett suggested ensuring that your bedroom is conducive to sleep.

“Keep it dark, quiet, and at a comfortable temperature,” he advised, suggesting that you also invest in a comfortable mattress and pillows.

Limit your screen time

Avoid using electronic devices such as cellphones, tablets and laptops at least an hour before bed.

“Screen blue light can disrupt your body's generation of melatonin, a hormone that governs sleep,” Hewlett said.

Monitor your diet

Avoid heavy meals, caffeine and alcohol close to bedtime as these can disrupt your sleep patterns.

Stay active

Regular physical exercise can significantly improve your sleep quality, Hewlett believes.

He suggested aiming for at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise on most days of the week.

“However, avoiding engaging in strenuous activities too close to bedtime is essential, as this can interfere with your ability to fall asleep quickly.”

Manage stress

To help you sleep better, try stress-reduction strategies like yoga, mindfulness meditation, or progressive muscle relaxation.

Consider professional help

If you believe you have a sleep disorder, Hewlett suggested consulting a healthcare practitioner or a sleep specialist.