Why Do We Need Sleep for Weight Loss? Less Sleep Leads to More Eating

There are a number of theories that may explain why we eat more when we sleep less.

Researchers now know that lack of sleep can cause you to eat more.

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If you are having trouble maintaining a healthy weight, your sleeping habits may be partly to blame. While a healthy diet and regular physical exercise are extremely important, they are not the only factors that can influence your weight. Researchers now know that lack of sleep can cause you to eat more.

Sleep and weight loss

We have previously reported on the association between sleep and weight loss (to read a detailed discussion, go here). One of the reasons why sleep is important for maintaining a healthy weight is that when we sleep less, we eat more. Researchers recently published a paper describing a strong link between good sleep and food intake. In the review, the authors present many studies that show poor sleep quantity and quality relating to increased food intake in both adults and children.[1] One new study shows, for example, that a lot of variability in sleeping habits is associated with increased food consumption in adolescents.[2] But why do we need sleep for weight loss and weight control?

How sleep and food intake are related

There are a number of theories that may explain why we eat more when we sleep less. In a nutshell, our bodies likely attempt to compensate for the energy loss we suffer when we don’t get enough rest; if we are running on low energy due to lack of sleep, our bodies may make us more hungry to make up for that energy deficit. Along with several biological mechanisms, there may be many psychological and behavioral factors that come into play as well. Some ways that lack of sleep and food intake are related include:

  • Lack of sleep may activate motivation and reward centers in the brain, making us more likely to do pleasurable activities like eating.[1]
  • When our sleep is disrupted, we often experience impairments in decision making and other executive functions which help us make health-conscious choices about food intake.[1]
  • Disrupted sleep causes disruptions in ghrelin and leptin levels. These two hormones are responsible for regulating our appetite and food intake. When sleep is disrupted, ghrelin is increased, which increases appetite. Sleep loss typically causes a reduction in leptin, which also increases appetite and food intake.[1] Read more about leptin and weight loss here.
  • Emotional regulation may be disrupted with lack of sleep. This can cause us to increase food intake, often known as “emotional eating” or “stress eating.”[1]

It is likely that all of these mechanisms, and more, work interdependently in causing us to eat more when we sleep less.

Addressing sleep problems to aid in weight loss efforts

Currently, treating sleep problems is not a common component of weight loss programs. But if you want to maintain a healthy weight, getting plenty of good, quality sleep is key. So if you have trouble sleeping, start making a change today. Browse our extensive collection of resources on sleep problems to find more information. Get started with these blogs:

Share your experience

Have you ever noticed that you eat more when you are sleeping worse? Do you have any ideas for helping improve your sleep? Share these, along with any of your favorite healthy weight loss tips, in the comments section below.


[1] J Health Psychol. 2015 Jun;20(6):794-805.

[2] Sleep Med. 2015 Mar 20. pii: S1389-9457(15)00677-2.

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UHN Staff

University Health News is produced by the award-winning editors and authors of Belvoir Media Group’s Health & Wellness Division. Headquartered in Norwalk, Conn., with editorial offices in Florida, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, … Read More

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