Sleep and Weight: Can Getting More Sleep Help You Shed Pounds?

Over one billion adults globally are classified as overweight (body mass index (BMI) of 25 to 29.9 kg/m), or obese (BMI > 30 kg/m). Although some factors that contribute to the obesity epidemic are well-known – genetic background, physical inactivity, consumption of high-fat foods – the significance of sleep is often overlooked. Over the last 30 years, the average sleep duration in the general adult population has decreased from 8.5 hours to 7.2, and sleep complaints are more common than ever.

Just How Important is Sleep?

Sleep is one of the most important factors in maintaining a healthy lifestyle – it is just as vital for weight loss as diet and exercise. In fact, getting a proper night’s rest can improve metabolism, reduce stress levels, and boost moods.

Around 25% of the population in the United States is currently experiencing sleep deprivation, and this decrease in sleep duration has corresponded with an increase in obesity rates. Research shows that sleep deprivation alters metabolism in a manner that makes individuals more prone to weight gain. Leptin, the hormone that regulates body fat, and ghrelin, a hormone primarily secreted by the stomach that stimulates appetite, play a major role in food intake and weight regulation. These hormones are crucial to the relationship between sleep duration and BMI: sleep restriction decreases leptin and increases ghrelin, thus increasing appetite levels and potentially leading to obesity.

Exploring the Link Between Sleep and Weight: Insights from Scientific Studies

The following studiesdelve into the intricate and multifaceted relationship between sleep and weight gain. Keep reading to learn what roles genetics, environment, and sleep duration play in obesity.

Associations between short sleep duration and central obesity in Women

Women with a larger waist size may be sleeping less, according to a study by Theorell-Haglöw et al. This puts them at a higher risk of developing central obesity, which is linked to heart disease, diabetes, and mortality more strongly than BMI. This study was the first to use full-night polysomnography instead of self-reported sleep durations and included 400 women between the ages of 20 and 70 in Sweden. According to its findings, the less a woman slept, the larger her waist circumference and sagittal abdominal diameter were. The study also concluded that younger women under the Age of 50 had a stronger association between sleep duration and central obesity.1

Twin Study of Sleep Duration and Body Mass Index

In a twin study by N. Watson et al., short sleep was associated with elevated BMI following careful adjustment for genetics and shared environment. The study found that people who sleep less than seven hours a night tend to have a higher body weight compared to those who sleep seven to eight and a half hours a night. This is especially true for twins who share the same environment.2 The study suggests that this link between sleep and body weight is not caused by genetics but by environmental factors like lifestyle and habits. The study looked at twins in Seattle who reported their height, weight, and sleep duration and found that there was little evidence to suggest that genetics played a role in the link between sleep and body mass.

Association of Short Sleep Duration with Weight Gain and Obesity

A Japanese study found that men who slept for short periods of time were more likely to gain weight and become obese.3 The study involved over 35,000 employees from an electric power company who were measured for height and weight and reported their sleep duration over the course of one year. The results showed that men who slept for less than five to six hours a night were more likely to gain weight and had a higher risk of becoming obese compared to those who slept longer. The study found that almost 6% of non-obese men became obese within one year following prolonged sleep reduction, and those who slept less than six hours a night were even more likely to become obese.

Sleep to Lose Weight? 

For those of us thinking it might be easy to trim down by simply adding an hour or two of sleep back into our daily routine, the solution is unfortunately not quite that simple. More studies need to be done to determine the nature and direction of the association between sleep and obesity. The obesity epidemic requires a multidisciplinary approach encompassing stress management, reduction of risky behaviors, and increase in healthy lifestyle habits. One of those healthy habits – adequate sleep – is a key factor in the equation.

Somnology’s integrated sleep services and monitoring data platform are designed to provide patients, care providers, healthcare payors, and employers with actionable information to improve health outcomes. Somnology provides a complete and holistic approach to sleep monitoring and care through its range of services, such as the SLaaS® (Sleep Lab as a Service) platform, telemedicine, SomnoRing®, and SomnologyMD mobile app. We have streamlined a typical sleep care experience by delivering the technology and medical insight of a sleep lab directly to users. The patient is at the center of our priorities as we proactively guide them through their sleep care journey. Visit our website to learn more.


  1.  Theorell-Haglöw J, Berne C, Janson C, Sahlin C, Lindberg E., Associations between short sleep duration and central obesity in women, Sleep. 2010 May 1;33(5):593–598.
  2. Watson NF, Buchwald D, Vitiello MV, Noonan C, Goldberg J., A Twin Study of Sleep Duration and Body Mass Index, Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, 2010 Feb 15;6(1):11–17.
  3. Watanabe M, Kikuchi H, Tanaka K, Takahashi M., Association of short sleep duration with weight gain and obesity at 1-year follow-up: a large-scale prospective study, Sleep, 2010 Feb 1;33(2):161–167.

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