Get Healthy Sleep to Better Manage Your Weight

Aug 8, 2022 | Blogs

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If you are having difficulty managing weight and know you are a chronic “bad sleeper,” you may be able to ease your weight struggles by focusing on improving your sleep. – Know also that you are not alone, as this is a health issue that millions of people have in common these days. During the past 40 years in the US, the average self-reported sleep duration has decreased by almost two hours. While this does not sound like good news, we do know the “why” behind this, and it also turns out that sleep quality is more important than quantity. The bad news is that if you struggle with sleep deprivation regularly, you are more likely to struggle with weight even if you maintain a “good” (healthy) diet.

There are several known lifestyle factors that cause people to experience ongoing poor sleep quality and sleep deprivation, including stress, socioeconomic status and demands, chronic work overload or “burnout”, hormonal and other disturbances in bodily function, and true sleep disorders. Both loss of sleep and sleep disorders are rampant in our modern society and cause adverse health effects. Specific to weight and health, sleep patterns are directly related to appetite regulation, metabolic maintenance, mental health, and chronic conditions. Moreover, the relation between sleep and food intake has been proven to be critical to health and wellbeing. (1)

Sleep and Circadian Rhythm

Your circadian rhythm, which is your body’s internal clock, has great influence over how you use nutrients, how much and when you eat, and other behaviors within your body.  For example, we all have sleep-wake cycles and feeding-fasting cycles that allow our bodies to temporarily calculate an anticipated time of food ingestion (eating calories) and to ensure the necessary metabolic processes are underway to maximize nutrient metabolism efficiency. In other words, our bodies have a naturally occurring time each day when metabolism is optimized. When we ingest foods at an ‘anticipated’ time, our bodies maintain nutrient balance. When we ingest foods at an ‘unanticipated’ time for our bodies, our circadian rhythms need to adapt and create a new anticipated time for taking in calories, thus working to maintain balance. This is where intermittent fasting, or purposeful food restriction, can come into play. Restricting food intake within an 8-12 hour window, for example, can help integrate and maintain optimal utilization of nutrients in the body and promote better overall health and wellbeing. (2)

Feeding and Energy Use

When we get sub-optimal sleep, our physical activity during the day is most-likely negatively affected, as we are less likely to perform physical activities, including even low-energy activities. This is an example of how sleep can affect our energy expenditure. If energy expenditure is decreased, and food intake is more than this expenditure, excess food energy can be stored in our bodies. Moreover, sleep restriction will also affect different metabolic hormones and, as a result, there can be an increase in appetite and food intake. Commonly consumed foods are then those with lower nutritional quality and a higher carbohydrate content. These may be sweet and salty snack foods, along with starchy foods. Overeating is a very common eating behavior when there is a span of sleep deprivation. This overeating is thought to be the body’s way of seeking to restore sleep, as sleep can be promoted through high food intake.


Metabolism is designed to conform, at a cellular level, according to available nutrients we provide our bodies.(2) During sleep our bodies are resting, healing, resetting, and fasting. In addition, when we sleep our bodies undergo changes in energy expenditure rates and metabolic activities, which allows us to efficiently adapt to our ever-changing environments. That said, our brains are always active and use glucose for fuel even when we are sleeping. This glucose usage increases when we are in rapid-eye movement (REM), or deep sleep, which creates a negative energy balance, inciting our hunger when we wake. (1)

Although there are numerous reasons for an increase in appetite, we most commonly look at the impact of sleep quality and patterns, hormone imbalances, stress, and energy expenditure on appetite regulation. When it comes to sleep (or lack thereof) and stress, the hormone cortisol plays a key role in weight gain and appetite regulation as well. Research shows that individuals who sleep for shorter periods of time have higher levels of cortisol than those who sleep for longer durations of time. These high cortisol levels from sleep deprivation cause increased appetite throughout the day. Another negative effect of high cortisol is a loss of deep REM sleep.

One bit of bright news, however, is that sleep quality, versus quantity, has been suggested to be the most impactful in relation to regulation of appetite. (1)

Intermittent Fasting (IF) and Time-restricted Eating (TRE)

Methods of training our bodies for optimal function related to both sleep and metabolism, including intermittent fasting, have shown promising results. Intermittent fasting (IF) is an umbrella term for nutritional intake patterns that are based on purposeful temporary calorie restriction. One type of IF, called time-restricted eating/feeding (TRE/F), consists of food intake periods of 3-12 hours, producing fasting periods of 12-21 hours. Time-Restricted Eating, or TRE, can help to improve sleep through regulating the sleep and wake cycles, in relation to food intake patterns. This means it is a form of Intermittent Fasting, or IF, which is purposeful calorie restriction. Participating in TRE can assist in the restoration of normal circadian rhythm functioning.

TRE has been shown to help improve sleep quality and better health independently from weight loss. TRE has also been associated with a decrease in total cholesterol, triglycerides, and inflammatory markers, and glucose metabolism improvements, along with weight loss. TRE is not something to be used as a tool towards the sole goal of weight loss, it is a tool to integrate into the lifestyle for long-term weight, metabolism, sleep, and health and hormone normalization and maintenance. (2)

Stress Less, Sleep Better, Weigh Less:

The bottom line is, it is important to look at daily habits and to get to the root cause of poor sleep and hormone imbalances before driving yourself crazy about what you eat or not. It is clear that prioritizing healthy sleep is one of the best things we can do for our waistlines and overall physical and mental health. For many people who struggle with sleep disturbances and deprivation as well as maintaining their weight, it is best to take the pressure off your diet and take a much closer look at stress in your life and how that impacts sleep. Stress and sleep are the two “biggies” in our lives that are tied closely together and directly cause issues with hormone imbalances (high cortisol levels in particular) and make weight management tricky. You can start to counteract it by taking time for mental breaks and physical breaks daily, and do follow a form of TRE, such as eating dinner early and not eating for 12 hours between dinner and breakfast. Finally, do make sleep your top health priority for helping you manage weight and feel great.


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