Sleep – Heavy Artillery in the Weight Loss Arsenal

On top of everything else we know about how good sleep is for us,  there’s now more evidence pointing to the importance of consistently getting enough sleep for weight control.  

A recently published study in the journal Sleep looked at the relationship between sleep habits and body weight of genetic twins.  In this study sample, getting less than 7 hours of sleep per night more than doubled the genetic influence on weight gain compared to getting 9 hours or more.  So it appears genetic propensity to gain weight is promoted by sleeping less while sleeping more seems to reduce genetic influence in gaining weight.  This suggests that, for people genetically susceptible to gaining weight, not sleeping enough is an acute risk factor.  Researchers can’t yet pinpoint the specific genes involved, but  links between lack of sleep and hormonal changes that promote weight gain have been established.

The body experiences consistent sleep deprivation as a stressor that carries detrimental effects.  Besides weight gain, lack of sleep affects cognitive function, mood and energy.  I know when I don’t get enough sleep, it’s tough to control cravings and even tougher to muster the energy to exercise.  There’s really no upside to skimping on sleep.  Going short occasionally is an unfortunate part of life, but doing it consistently will almost certainly lead to undesired outcomes.

Most people do fine with six to eight hours every night, but there are exceptions.  The twins in the aforementioned study who experienced reduced genetic influences slept at least 9 hours nightly, so it clearly varies.  Probably the best way to tell how much you need is to monitor symptoms of sleep deprivation.  If you consistently wake up tired, lack energy during the day, feel grouchy or have trouble focusing, there’s a good chance you’re not sleeping enough.  Another indicator is lack of weight loss, especially if you’re following good nutrition and exercise habits.  A little more sleep every night may be just what you need to start dropping pounds.

Try getting away from the TV, computer, iPad, etc. for a little while before heading to bed.  Lack of light signals the body that it’s time to sleep, so withdraw from electronic gadgets to fall asleep faster.  Also, keeping the bedroom dark is key – the darker the better.  A cool, quiet, pitch black room will be the best environment to get your Zzzzz’s.

Do you have any strategies that help you sleep?  Have you noticed you do better with more or less?

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Michael Bento is an Advanced Trainer at the Clubs at Charles River Park. He holds a Masters degree in Human Movement and is certified by the National Academy of Sports Medicine as a Corrective Exercise Specialist and Performance Enhancement Specialist.

2 Responses to “Sleep – Heavy Artillery in the Weight Loss Arsenal”

  1. Michelle says:

    I do best when I read for 20-30 minutes before bed… really helps me shut down!