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February 11, 2021

How Sleep Impacts Weight Loss

Weight loss can be an uphill battle. If you aren’t getting a good night’s sleep, the challenge may even greater. When you are exhausted from lack of sleep, you’re unlikely to have the energy to exercise or prepare healthy food. Lack of sleep can also have a negative effect on your hormonal balance. What follows is a look at how sleep impacts weight loss.

Not sleeping enough or not getting good sleep may make healthy weight maintenance more difficult and increase the risk of obesity. So how do you sleep better to get the essential rest that you need? Try these strategies for sleeping more soundly at night. 

Sleep and Weight Loss

There are several different ways that poor sleep or lack of sleep can play a role in achieving and/or maintaining a healthy weight. When you understand the impact that sleep can have, you will be motivated to create and follow a new bedtime ritual.

Unhealthy Food Choices

Sleep can play a key role in our ability to make better food choices. In fact, not getting sufficient sleep very well could make mindful eating more challenging. Mindful eating refers to a practice of thoughtful observation and judgement-free awareness when choosing and eating food. It can help in reaching healthy weight loss goals.

When we are sleep-deprived, changes in the brain may alter the way we relate to and choose food. A 2014 study found that when participants were sleep-deprived, they reported no changes in hunger, but imaging studies found neural changes that were significant (1).

Specifically, the research showed increased activity in a region of the brain involved in appetite choice, evaluation, and regulation. Both food desire and food awareness were heightened under the sleep-deprived condition. In addition, the desire for larger quantities of high-calorie, weight-gain promoting foods also increased.

Another study evaluated the effect of sleep restriction (limiting subjects to about 4 hours of sleep) in relation to food. A small study (25 normal-weight women and men) found that when participants slept for only four hours, exposure to unhealthy foods prompted intensified activity in the parts of the brains involved in reward and cravings. These changes didn’t happen when they got plenty of sleep.

There is a greater likelihood of succumbing to unhealthy foods when sleep is restricted. Furthermore, a lack of sleep leads to an increased desire for foods high in fats and sugars and an increase in overall food consumption.

Changes in Hunger Hormone

Lack of sleep can also mess with your ghrelin. Ghrelin is a hormone that is produced by the stomach when it is empty. It’s also produced in greater amounts when you’re low on sleep.

Ghrelin arrives at the brain after traveling through the bloodstream. Once there, it stimulates neurons in the hypothalamus to signal hunger. For this reason, ghrelin is often called the “hunger hormone.”

A small study published in 2014 found that when people were given injections of ghrelin, they were more likely to crave high-calorie sweets and junk food. The researchers concluded that chronically high levels of ghrelin—which is likely to happen when not getting enough sleep—could play a part in obesity.

Another study found that getting more sleep could reduce ghrelin levels. Researchers from Louisiana State University found that stress management techniques like sleeping and exercising helped to reduce both ghrelin levels and the cravings that come with them.

From what we know so far, sleep may be the best approach to minimizing the negative effects of the hunger hormone.

Less Healthy Activity, More Fatigue

In addition to complex hormone shifts and neural changes, there are very simple ways that poor sleep or lack of sleep can affect the effort to lose weight. Simply put, when you’re tired, you may be less likely to put effort into almost anything which can include exercise and healthy meal planning.

If you’re trying to lose weight, as a personal trainer my general recommendation is that you get 300 minutes or more of moderate physical activity each week which equates to approximately 45 minutes per day….every day. Experts also suggest avoiding heavily processed convenience foods, which are linked to weight gain.

For weight loss, I also suggest avoiding heavily processed foods, which are linked to weight gain. But preparing nutritious meals and increasing physical activity takes mental and physical energy. If you’re tired, you may not have the willpower to follow through. Getting enough rest every night can help to prime your body and mind for these important efforts.

How to Sleep Better

We can recharge our “human battery” in one of three ways: by exercising, by eating, or by sleeping. If we don’t get a good night’s sleep we are likely to refuel by eating too much. So how we do improve the quality of our sleep? Here are some helpful adjustments you can make to sleep better, refuel and recharge:


If you can’t afford to get a full eight hours of sleep at night, don’t despair. Both sleep quality and sleep quantity play a role in your health. Simply lying down for eight hours doesn’t mean that you are sleeping for eight hours. A recipe for better-quality sleep includes making a few simple changes to your environment.

  • Don’t charge electronic accessories next to your bed, as they create a subliminal distraction
  • Invest in a high-quality mattress to achieve the best sleeping posture
  • Minimize distractions, such as light or noise from a television
  • Be sure the temperate is set at or below 67 degrees

Respect Your Own Sleep Habits

Work within your own needs for sleep. This might mean adjusting your daily habits. For example, some people find that exercising late at night is disruptive to a good night’s sleep. But for others, an early morning workout isn’t tolerable. The key is working within your lifestyle to find what works.

By learning to sleep well, you may gain the energy you need to apply to other aspects of your health. You may find that your appetite for more nutritious foods and healthy activity increases as well.

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