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Blog Weight Management

Is Sleep Impacting Your Weight Loss Efforts?

written by Skye Kalil Written by Skye Kalil
Skye Kalil

Skye Kalil

Skye likes writing about mental health, nutrition, and wellness. She is passionate about sharing information that will educate, and positively affect people's lives.

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reviewed by Linda Anegawa, MD, FACP Reviewed by Linda Anegawa, MD, FACP
Linda Anegawa, MD, FACP

Linda Anegawa, MD, FACP

Dr. Anegawa graduated from the Univ. of Pennsylvania School of Medicine and completed residency at Stanford. She has over 20 years of practice experience and specializes in Internal Medicine and Obesity Medicine.

January 20, 2022 Read Time - 9 minutes

Does Sleep Affect Weight Loss?

Yes, sleep may affect weight loss. If you are getting insufficient sleep, it could be playing a role in weight gain, as sleep loss is one of the risk factors for obesity. However, there are many other factors that determine weight outside of nutrition and function of behavior. Some of those factors include: 

  • Genetics
  • Socioeconomic status
  • Community environment
  • Stress levels and the way you manage your stress
  • Overall health

If you are struggling to lose weight, many factors could be playing a role. However, sleep is a behavior that is commonly overlooked as a weight loss factor. Learn more about how sleep affects weight loss. 

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What Is the Connection Between Sleep and Weight Loss?

The connection between sleep and weight loss in part lies in the hormonal imbalance that lack of sleep creates. When you are not getting enough sleep, your body does not have proper time to allocate to the production of crucial hormones like Leptin and ghrelin. Leptin and ghrelin regulate appetite, and an imbalance can cause increased feelings of hunger, in turn promoting overeating and weight gain. Lack of refreshing sleep can also stimulate cortisol production in the body, which can also promote weight gain and lead to difficulty with weight loss.

Sleep deprivation also causes a greater tendency to select high-calorie foods, exercise less, and fatigue during the day. 

In addition, there is some early research that lack of sleep affects the gut microbiome which may play a role in weight regulation as well. This is a rapidly growing area of research, and we are continuing to learn more about how and why this is a factor.

Will Sleeping More Help Me Lose Weight?

In short, it depends. If you are already getting more than eight hours of sleep each night, it is unlikely that sleep is playing a large role in weight gain, unless you are sleeping more than 12 hours a day (a sign of a potentially different issue that could affect weight). With that being said, sleeping more could help you lose weight if you are sleeping 5.5 hours or less a night. With a significant lack of sleep, it can cause a hormone imbalance which could lead to weight gain. 

How Many Hours of Sleep Do You Need to Lose Weight?

You need at least 8.5 hours of sleep, according to a study done by the Healthy Active Living and Obesity Research Group. They concluded that there is ample support for the importance of sleep from their study comparing adults who were assigned to sleep either 5.5 hours or 8.5 hours each night for 14 days. The research showed that: 

Participants who slept 8.5 hours per night:

  • 55% less body fat
  • 60% more fat-free mass

Participants who slept only 5.5 hours:

  • Had less-favorable changes in metabolic hormone levels and substrate and energy use 
  • Perceived greater hunger 
  • Had higher ghrelin levels

The study goes on to state, “Given that higher ghrelin concentrations may facilitate the retention of fat, and increased hunger could compromise adherence to caloric restriction, these mechanisms may help explain why insufficient sleep could compromise the efficacy of common dietary interventions.”

Does Afternoon Sleep Increase Weight?

No, afternoon sleep does not increase weight, if anything, it will have the opposite effect. Afternoon naps can aid weight loss by improving:

  • Heart health and blood pressure 
  • Hormonal balance throughout the body
  • Digestive health
  • Sleep quality
  • Recovery from an illness or workout

Sleep Apnea and Weight Loss

Sleep apnea is a relatively common, yet potentially serious, sleep disorder. Sleep apnea causes disrupted breathing while you are asleep. Sleep apnea patients commonly snore loudly and feel tired after sleeping all night. The most common type is obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), in which a narrow or blocked upper airway causes disruptive breathing to occur. 

Sleep apnea has been linked to weight in that excess weight can cause sleep apnea, but sleep apnea can lead to weight gain as well, creating a harmful cycle. Research from 2021 shows that obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) patients may be more prone to weight gain than people who do not have OSA, but have the same BMI. One study showed that people with OSA gained substantially more weight (~16 pounds) in one year, compared to those without OSA. 

The study concluded that “better sleep health was associated with greater weight and fat loss. As expected, this association was attenuated after accounting for OSA severity. Waketime regularity, sleep satisfaction, sleep timing, and sleep efficiency were individual dimensions related to weight and/or fat loss. These results suggest that, when attempting weight loss, poor sleep health could be an important predictor of blunted weight loss.”

Fortunately, treating sleep apnea with devices such as a CPAP machine can be of great help in managing your weight.  

What Is Insomnia?

Insomnia is a common sleep disorder that makes falling and staying asleep difficult. People with insomnia commonly feel tired when they wake up, and can affect energy level, mood, and health. 

Acute insomnia: Many people experience difficulty falling asleep from time to time. Acute insomnia lasts for days or weeks, and is typically caused by stress or a traumatic event. Most people find it challenging to fall asleep when they are excited or nervous about something in the future. Acute insomnia will typically go away.

Chronic insomnia: This form of insomnia can last for months or even years. It may be the primary condition or side effect of another condition or medication. Chronic insomnia is the form of insomnia that people look to treat, and can cause long-term detriment, both physically and mentally. 

Common symptoms of insomnia may include:

  • Difficulty falling asleep at night
  • Waking up during the night
  • Waking up too early
  • Not feeling well-rested after a night’s sleep
  • Daytime tiredness or sleepiness
  • Irritability, depression, or anxiety
  • Difficulty paying attention, focusing on tasks, or remembering
  • Increased errors or accidents
  • Ongoing worries about sleep

Common causes of chronic insomnia include:

  • Stress
  • Travel or work schedule
  • Poor sleep habits
  • Eating too much late in the evening
  • Mental health disorders
  • Medications
  • Medical conditions
  • Sleep-related disorders
  • Caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol

Related: Can Anxiety Cause Insomnia Problems?


Insomnia Treatment

Treating chronic insomnia depends on what is causing the insomnia. If insomnia is the primary condition, it is treated by changing sleep habits that may cause insomnia. If that does not work, other steps can be taken, such as therapy, medication, or both. If insomnia is a secondary condition, or cause of a medical condition, or medication, then those things must first be addressed. 

Treatment for insomnia may include cognitive behavioral therapy, prescription medication, and over-the-counter sleep aids.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia  

Cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia will help you to reframe your mindset and control negative thoughts that tend to keep people awake. CBT revolves around identifying and eliminating cycles of thoughts or behaviors that have harmful consequences. It is generally the first step taken, and is usually more effective than sleep medications. 

Strategies in CBT-I that create good sleep habits include: 

  • Stimulus control therapy
  • Relaxation techniques
  • Sleep restriction
  • Remaining passively awake
  • Light therapy

Prescription Medications

Prescription medications can help patients fall asleep, stay asleep, or both. Typically, they will only be used for a few weeks, as forming a dependency on medication to fall asleep will not be sustainable or beneficial long term. The brain is powerful and can literally “outsmart” the medication if it is taken for too long. Medications also have side effects and can be habit-forming, so make sure to talk to your doctor before taking any new medication.

Some examples of prescriptions that are sometimes used for sleep include:

  • Trazodone
  • Vistaril
  • Eszopiclone (Lunesta)
  • Ramelteon (Rozerem)
  • Zaleplon (Sonata)
  • Zolpidem (Ambien, Edluar, Intermezzo, Zolpimist)

Over-The-Counter Sleep Aids

Nonprescription sleep medications are not intended for long-term use, and like prescription medications, typically have side effects as well. Make sure to talk to your doctor before taking any medication, as they can have serious interactions with other medication, even if you can get it over the counter. 

Some examples of over the counter sleep medication include: 

  • Melatonin
  • Valerian: (Valerian root)
  • Diphenhydramine (Advil PM, Excedrin PM, Nytol, Tylenol PM, and ZzzQuil)
  • Doxylamine (Unisom SleepTabs, Medi-Sleep, and Good Sense Sleep Aid)

Online Doctor for Insomnia

If you are experiencing acute or chronic insomnia, and seeking help, the best thing to do is to see a doctor. You should see a doctor if insomnia is affecting your everyday life or making it hard to function during the day. 

PlushCare connects patients with experienced, board-certified doctors who often have same-day online appointments available. Our doctors can help diagnose insomnia, create a treatment plan, and if appropriate, can prescribe medication after a medical consultation. Medication is typically not the first course of treatment recommended; however, if you have exhausted all other resources, medication may be an appropriate treatment. 

PlushCare doctors can discuss prescription sleeping aids with you, such as Trazodone, or other medication that is not a controlled substance. Online doctors cannot write prescriptions for any controlled substances such as Xanax, Valium, Klonopin, Ativan, and lorazepam.

Click here to make an appointment with an online PlushCare doctor.  

  • Book on our free mobile app or website.

    Our doctors operate in all 50 states and same day appointments are available every 15 minutes.

  • See a doctor, get treatment and a prescription at your local pharmacy.

  • Use your health insurance just like you normally would to see your doctor.

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Online Doctor for Weight Loss

Our online doctors at PlushCare can also help with weight loss. Our doctors have over 15 years of experience on average, and know the importance of keeping a healthy weight to maintain overall health. Our doctors work with patients to determine the right weight management treatment plan, and work alongside them moving forward with specific actionable steps.

If your doctor determines that prescription weight loss medication would be suitable for you, you can discuss starting taking medication. After a medical consultation, our doctors may be able to prescribe weight loss medications such as:

Click here to book an online appointment with a PlushCare doctor.  


Read More About Sleep and Weight Loss


Medications are prescribed at the sole discretion of a PlushCare physician. Prescriptions for non-controlled substances can only be written after a medical evaluation. Scheduling an appointment does not guarantee that a medication can or will be prescribed.


Sources:

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Kline CE, Chasens ER, Bizhanova Z, et al. The association between sleep health and weight change during a 12-month behavioral weight loss intervention. Int J Obes (Lond). 2021;45(3):639-649. Accessed on January 16, 2022 at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7914147/ 

Chaput JP, Tremblay A. Adequate sleep to improve the treatment of obesity. CMAJ. 2012;184(18):1975-1976. Accessed on January 16, 2022 at  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3519150/

The Sleep Foundation. Alexa Fry, Dr. Anis Rehman. Obesity and Sleep. November 20, 2020. Accessed on January 16, 2022 at https://www.sleepfoundation.org/physical-health/obesity-and-sleep 

Benedict et al., Gut microbiota and glucometabolic alterations in response to recurrent partial sleep deprivation. Mol Metab. 2016 Dec; 5(12): 1175–1186. Published online 2016 Oct 24.  Accessed on January 20, 2022 at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5123208/#

Most PlushCare articles are reviewed by M.D.s, Ph.Ds, N.P.s, nutritionists and other healthcare professionals. Click here to learn more and meet some of the professionals behind our blog. The PlushCare blog, or any linked materials are not intended and should not be construed as medical advice, nor is the information a substitute for professional medical expertise or treatment. For more information click here.

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