Many moms lead lives filled with business and stress, which goes hand in hand with sleep deprivation. But if you’re trying to lose weight, you might be surprised to learn that sleep and weight loss are strongly linked. Achieving a healthy weight might be as simple as sleeping more or improving the quality of your sleep.
How are Sleep Deprivation and Body Weight Linked?
The link between sleep and weight loss or gain involves hormones related to hunger, plummeting energy levels, and metabolism. Examples include:
#1 Hormone Levels
Studies show that sleep restriction increases a hunger hormone in your body called ghrelin, that’s responsible for increases in hunger.
A study published in 2016 in Obesity found that sleep restriction significantly increased ghrelin levels in study subjects, and was associated with eating 328 extra calories daily from snacks – especially sweets and other carbohydrate-rich foods.
Leptin is a hormone released from the fat cells that sends signals to the hypothalamus in the brain. This hormone helps regulate and alter long-term food intake and energy expenditure. The primary design of leptin is to help the body maintain its weight.
Leptin and ghrelin seem to be the big players in regulating appetite, which influences body weight and fat percentages. When we get hungrier, we tend to eat more. When we eat more we maintain our body weight or gain that weight back.
Based on results from this study, sleep deprivation and eating over 300 extra calories daily might lead to weight gain of about 1/2 pound per week or drastically hinder weight loss.
#2 Decreased Energy Expenditure
Chronic sleep deprivation no doubt increases fatigue. Depending on how motivated you are for regular exercise, feeling tired may prevent you from working out to your maximize potential or cause you to skip workouts altogether.
Chronic fatigue might also mean burning fewer overall calories throughout the day, as tiredness may prevent you from walking the dog, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, and doing yard work or daily house chores.
#3 Increased Sugar Cravings
Another reason sleep deprivation hinders weight loss is due to sugary food cravings to counteract fatigue. For example, you might be tempted to drink a soda, sweet tea, or candy to stay alert at work when fatigue sets in.
In addition to findings in the 2016 study published in Obesity that showed sleep deprived study subjects ate more sweet treats, a similar 2016 study published in Sleep Health reports similar results. The researchers say sleep deprivation, or sleeping 5 hours or less per night, is associated with a 21% increase in caffeinated sugar-sweetened beverage consumption.
Because many sugary drinks (such as soda) provide about 150 calories per can, increasing your sugar-sweetened beverage intake can drastically hinder weight loss and even lead to weight gain over time.
#4 A Vicious Cycle
Getting too little sleep on a regular basis is associated with weight gain, overweight, and obesity. But studies show that obesity and obesity-related disease, such as type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure, can contribute to sleep apnea. This is a viscous cycle that's difficult to break without significantly changing your lifestyle habits.
How Much Sleep is Enough for Weight Loss?
Everybody is different when it comes to how much sleep is ideal to maximize health, wellness, and weight loss, but general recommends and research findings can guide you.
As a rule, women need at least 7 hours of sleep each night. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends adults get 7-9 hours of sleep nightly for optimal health.
Sleep Research Findings
Studies show that getting less than 7 hours of sleep per night is associated with increases in weight and fat gain over time.
An example is a 2016 study published in the journal Obesity. Researchers found that short and long sleep durations (less than 7 hours per night and more than 9 hours per night for some age groups) are associated with higher body mass indexes (BMIs).
Exceptions to the Rule
There are occasions where you may need extra sleep beyond the general recommendations. Examples include being ill, recently having surgery, or participating in ultra-endurance competitions like marathons. Listen to your body when it comes to the hours of sleep you need to maintain a healthy weight and lifestyle.
How you feel in the morning and throughout the day is a good indicator of whether or not you're getting enough quality sleep.
Signs of Sleep Deprivation
Sleep deprivation can happen if you don't allow yourself enough time to sleep, sleep poorly when you do go to bed, or a combination of the two. Some signs of sleep deprivation to watch for include:
- Not waking up well rested
- Waking up more than once during the night
- Taking more than 30 minutes to fall asleep
- Spending less than 85% of your time in bed asleep
- Staying awake more than 20 minutes during the night
- Daytime fatigue
- Weight gain
- Difficulty concentrating
- Dosing off at work or while driving
Chronic sleep deprivation not only takes a toll on your weight and concentration, it can be dangerous. Put high-quality sleep at the top of your priority list before you begin a weight loss program.
Ways to Improve Sleep Quality
Sleep quality is just as important as the number of hours you’re sleeping each night when it comes to effective weight loss. There are numerous ways you can increase your chance of getting high-quality sleep on a regular basis.
#1 Set a Regular Sleep Schedule
Going to bed at the same time each night sets your body’s internal clock to maximize sleep quality. Set a bedtime you can stick with long term based on the time you wake up.
Allow yourself 7-9 hours of uninterrupted sleep. Try not to change up your routine, and avoid staying up late on weekends when possible.
#2 Make Your Bedroom Dark
Your body is designed to wake up to light, so keep your bedroom dark to give you the best chance of getting the high-quality sleep you need to effectively drop weight.
Your body secretes melatonin, which is the “darkness hormone,” in response to being in the dark – and melatonin helps you sleep better. If you have to sleep during the day or when it’s light outside, use blinds or drapes to make your room as dark as possible.
#3 Sleep in a Quiet Room or with White Noise
It’s no surprise that loud sounds make it more difficult to get the quality sleep your body requires. If you live near a busy street or wake up easily to barking dogs, thunder, sirens, and other noises, try sleeping next to a loud fan or get a white noise machine to block out disruptive sounds.
#4 Set a Cool Bedroom Temperature
Wrapping up in a blanket in cool temperatures is the best way to achieve high-quality sleep. The National Sleep Foundation recommends setting your bedroom temperature to 60-67 degrees Fahrenheit for optimal sleep. While there’s no one-size fits all temperature for your sleep needs, if you have trouble sleeping try lowering your thermostat.
#5 Avoid Going to Bed Hungry or Very Full
Even if you’re trying to shed pounds, avoid going to bed hungry as doing so make falling and staying asleep more difficult. If you feel hungry late at night, the National Sleep Foundation recommends eating a light snack about 45 minutes before you go to sleep, but avoid eating large meals right before bedtime.
#6 Steer Clear of Alcohol, Caffeine, and Cigarettes before Bed
When weight loss is your goal, it’s best to nix alcohol and smoking entirely to maximize your health. If you do drink alcohol, avoid doing so in the evening as it can disrupt sleep. Alcohol does have sedative effects, but studies show it disrupts sleep during the second half of the night. Caffeinated coffee and tea are welcome additions to weight loss plans, but avoid caffeine within 4-6 hours before bed to improve sleep.
#7 Reduce Stress and Anxiety
Work, relationship, and other emotional stressors can take a toll on your sleep.
De-stress as best you can by taking a day for yourself, going for a walk, getting a massage, doing yoga, trying meditation, or delving deeper into your spirituality.
#8 Avoid Late Afternoon Naps
Daytime naps are beneficial for weight loss in certain situations, especially if you’re not getting at least 7 hours of sleep at night.
Napping late in the day, especially taking long naps, often makes you less tired at bedtime and reduces sleep quality.
If you do take naps, keep them short (30 minutes or less) and early in the day.
#9 Steer Clear of Screen Time before Bed
Screen time includes looking at your phone, television, iPad, or computer screen, as these electronics emit blue light that reduces melatonin.
Consider installing an app on your phone, computer, or laptop that blocks blue light – and avoid watching TV right before bed.
Instead, curl up with a book before you turn out the lights.
#10 Work Out Regularly, but Not Right before Bed
Numerous studies show that regular exercise improves sleep quality. It’s also beneficial for weight and fat loss. Aim to complete at least 30 minutes of exercise most days of the week for best results, and stay active all throughout the day – not just during workouts. Avoid working out right before bed, as doing so can energize you.
#11 Maintain a Healthy Weight
The relationship between sleep and weight gain is two-fold. Sleep deprivation can lead to weight gain over time, and being overweight might disrupt your sleep.
Studies show that obesity can contribute to sleep apnea. Making healthy lifestyle choices in all areas of your life can improve sleep quality and enhance weight loss. If you weigh more than you'd like to sign up for a weight loss program, such as Fit Mother Project 30X (FM30X), to get and keep excess weight off for good.
#12 Take a Warm Bath or Shower Before Bed
Believe it or not taking a warm shower or bath before bed can improve sleep efficiency, say researchers who conducted a 2017 study published in the European Journal of Sports Science.
Doing so slightly elevates your body temperature and studies show that warming the body, even with heat packs, promotes better sleep.
#13 Treat Sleep Apnea if You Have It
If you’ve tried the sleeping tips above and aren't sleeping well, check in with your doctor to find out if you have sleep apnea. This condition occurs when your breathing repeatedly starts and stops throughout the night.
Sleep apnea can lead to chronic daytime fatigue and is associated with certain health conditions, such as heart and liver problems, if left untreated.
Your doctor may recommend using a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine, another airway pressure device, or an oral appliance to keep you airway open while you sleep.
#14 Check Medication Side Effects
Some medications can cause sleep disturbances. If you're having trouble sleeping, ask your doctor if it's related to medications that affect sleep, such as high blood pressure or depression medications. If so, ask your provider to prescribe another medication or recommend natural remedies instead.
#15 Consider Melatonin Supplements
Sleeping medications can lead to morning drowsiness, impair cognition, cause other side effects, and be addictive. Instead of taking sleeping pills, ask your doctor about melatonin supplements instead. Studies show these supplements are well tolerated and enhance sleep quality without the side effects associated with sleep medications.
I’m Getting Enough Sleep, Now What?
After making sure you're getting adequate amounts of high-quality sleep each night, adopt other healthy lifestyle habits to increase your chance at weight loss success. Try the following:
- Drink water before meals and at least 11-12 cups daily for women.
- Exercise at least 30 minutes a day.
- Fill each plate half-full of vegetables, one-fourth full of protein foods, and one-fourth full of fiber-rich starches.
- Don’t drink alcohol or smoke.
- Avoid sugary drinks and sweets.
- Cook at home vs. eating out.
- Record daily food intakes.
- Weigh yourself regularly.
- Load up on fiber-rich foods, protein, and healthy fats.
- Sign up for a weight loss program for women.
When weight loss is your goal, sign up for a program specifically designed for busy moms over 40, such as the Fit Mother Project 30X (FM30X). This plan gives you the tools necessary to get excess weight off and keep it off for life. You’ll receive:
- Fat-burning workouts
- Meal plans
- Menus and recipes
- Q&A access to health experts
- Email coaching
- Weekly newsletters
- Fit Mom Facebook access
- Much more
FM30X is specifically designed to help busy moms drop weight and live happier, healthier, lives. To get started, sign up for a FREE Fit Mom Jumpstart Kit – containing a FREE 1-day weight loss meal plan, FREE weight loss workout, FREE email coaching, and Fit Mom Facebook access – you won’t be sorry you did!
Writer, The Fit Father Project
A 15-year freelance writing veteran, Erin is registered dietitian and health educator who is passionate about health, fitness and disease prevention. Her published work appears on hundreds of health and fitness websites, and she’s working on publishing her first book! Erin is a wife and mom of two beautiful children.