The effects of Sleep on Weight management and body composition

Obesity is a chronic disease resulting from genetic, environmental, and psychosocial factors resulting in increased adipose (fat) tissue that increases the risk of disease such as cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and certain cancers, which are some of the leading causes of preventable, premature death.  As of 2015, over 100 million children and 600 million adults globally had excess adiposity, representing a near-doubling in prevalence over 70 countries since 1980.In the US alone, the prevalence of obesity increased from 30.5% in 1999-2000 to 42.4% in 2017-2018, costing over $300 billion annually in medical costs.

Interestingly, the proportion of adults in Australia who sleep less than 8 hours per night has also markedly increased in recent times. 1 in 3 Australians is not getting enough sleep with over 30% of Australians averaging between 4-6 hours sleep. This lifestyle behavior appears to have negative consequences related to obesity.

Recently I came across an interesting study from 2010 from the University of Chicago published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, Insufficient sleep undermines dietary efforts to reduce adiposity.

In the study 12 healthy, normal-weight men who underwent two nights of sleep restriction to 4 hours per night showed a subsequent increase in hunger and appetite, particularly for calorie-dense foods with high carbohydrate content. Here are some key points from the study:

  1. Adiposity-related chronic diseases and decreased time spent sleeping have both increased substantially in recent years
  2. A number of mechanisms have been identified that tie decreased sleep duration to increased obesity, such as an increase in ghrelin and a decrease in leptin, which results in an increase in appetite and food seeking behavior. Additionally, sleep restriction may reduce the ability of the body to burn fat as fuel, while increasing its ability to burn protein (derived from lean body mass).

Overall, this study suggests that sedentary adults with obesity who consume a calorie-restricted diet with reduced sleep, tend to be hungrier and lose more lean muscle mass than if they were able to sleep more. This is corroborated by additional evidence showing that sleep duration can have a significant effect on appetite (hunger) and satiety (fullness).

This means that lack of sleep can make adherence that much harder to a health-promoting dietary pattern. Just another reason of many of why we should always try our best to make time for sleep.

While Sleep duration appears to play a role in the outcomes energy balance is still king when it comes to weight loss. Here are some of our main favorite strategies you can implement to increase your satiety (fullness):

  • Manage the food environment to encourage consumption of foods high in protein, fiber and water and low in fat, added sugar, and sodium
  • Change the eating environment to avoid distracted eating eg reduce use of smart phones, watching TV, or computer use during a meal
  • Increase exercise to meet or exceed the current physical activity guidelines, as exercise increases sensitivity to satiety signals
  • Get enough sleep and manage stress to avoid increases in appetite and reductions in satiety.

Overall the first step when looking for weight loss outcomes is to work on nutrition. However, if you are not seeing expected body composition improvements, sleep duration and quality should be addressed to see if it’s a contributing factor. If you are struggling with sleep don’t be afraid to seek help as there are plenty of professionals out there and it might just change your life!

Functional Training Centre - Booragoon


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I have developed an approach to exercise motivation that has enabled many average individuals to achieve amazing weight loss, health and fitness results.


I have developed an approach to exercise motivation that has enabled many average individuals to achieve amazing weight loss, health and fitness results.