What’s the Link Between Sleep and Weight Management?

What’s the Link Between Sleep and Weight Management?
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What is ‘good’ sleep?

Most adults need 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night, while teenagers need about 8 to 10. However, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that more than one-third of Americans aren’t meeting those recommendations.

A decent night’s sleep isn’t just about how many hours you’re getting; it’s also about the quality. When you’re sleeping, your brain cycles through non-rapid eye movement (non-REM), quiet sleep, rapid eye movement (REM), or active sleep stages. In a high-quality night’s sleep, you cycle through all of these sleep stages multiple times.

Getting enough sleep and cycling through the stages of sleep are important parts of a person’s mental and physical health. You’ll likely know if you’re having sufficient sleep based on how you feel the next day. If you’re waking up refreshed and clear-headed, this is a good sign you’re sleeping well.

Sleep and weight management — what’s the connection?

If you are interested in managing your weight, you may want to take a closer look at your sleep patterns. Not sleeping enough may affect your appetite, and activity levels, and put you at a higher risk of developing obesity and other chronic conditions. Here’s what you need to know.

Lack of sleep and appetite

The amount and quality of sleep you’re getting may affect your appetite.

What drives a person to eat is complicated. Hunger isn’t just a physiological need; there’s also a desire to eat that comes from cravings, habits, boredom, or emotions, for example. Why people “feel” hungry isn’t as simple as it may seem.

But here’s what researchers do know — not getting enough quality sleep can cause changes in the levels of hunger hormones ghrelin (promotes hunger) and leptin (contributes to you feeling full).

Both of these hormones work to balance the appetite and weight over time. Poor sleep can disrupt how they normally work to stimulate and suppress the appetite.

Research has also found that poor sleep can make it more likely you’ll reach for calorie-rich foods and carbohydrates, which in turn can lead to weight gain.

Lack of sleep and activity levels

When you don’t sleep enough, your body isn’t getting the restoration it needs. This may lead to a next-day sleep “hangover” that can affect your energy levels. And, movement and physical activity are an important part of overall health, as well as weight maintenance.

Some research suggests that there’s a bidirectional relationship between sleep and exercise. This means that while exercise may help improve sleep, likewise, a good night’s sleep may help to improve exercise habits. However, researchers are still working to better understand this relationship.

Lack of (and too much) sleep and chronic conditions

Research suggests that sleeping less than 7 hours a night may increase a person’s risk of obesity and other chronic conditions such as type 2 diabetes.

Keep in mind, that this applies to children as well. Sleep loss in children increases their risk of developing overweight or obesity.

On the other hand, research shows that a long sleep duration (9 to 10 hours a night) is also problematic when it comes to weight gain. If you regularly sleep more than 9 hours and aren’t feeling well-rested, consider talking to your healthcare provider. Oversleeping may be linked to mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety and higher body mass index (BMI).

The right amount of sleep may be different for each person, and there are health hazards with under-sleeping and oversleeping, so finding your happy medium with sleep is key.

Can weight affect sleep quality?

Yes. People who are overweight are more likely to report having problems with sleep. This can be a frustrating, circular problem with a lack of sleep leading to weight gain and increased weight causing sleep issues. What’s more, many health conditions that affect sleep are more likely to be found in people who have overweight or obese. These include:

  • Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA)
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
  • Depression
  • Asthma
  • Osteoarthritis

Talk to your healthcare provider if you are concerned about the quality of your sleep. They will be able to help determine if there is an underlying condition causing the problem.

Tips for getting a good night’s sleep

The steps for getting quality shut-eye are well-researched and relatively easy to put into practice. Consider these healthy sleep tips:

  • Allow yourself enough time to sleep
  • Be consistent with your sleep schedule
  • Create a comfortable, quiet sleep environment
  • Avoid electronics before bed
  • Exercise regularly
  • Avoid caffeine 6 hours before bedtime
  • Avoid or minimize alcohol use

If you’re still having sleep issues despite taking steps to improve your sleep hygiene, talk with your healthcare provider. They’ll help identify any sleep conditions, get any necessary testing completed, and develop a plan to improve your sleep.


Getting a good night’s sleep is an important part of your physical and emotional well-being. Although researchers are still working to understand the relationship between sleep and weight, evidence shows that poor sleep may lead to excess eating, increases in weight, and other chronic mental and physical health conditions. Consider talking to your healthcare provider if you’re having any sleep issues.


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Written by Jewels Doskicz, RN, BA | Reviewed by Katie E. Golden, MD

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