The Truth About Sleep and Weight

Missing those Z’s really does affect your fitness journey.

We all know sleep is a necessary part of life. On average, people need between 7 and 9 hours of sleep per night in order to feel rested and function normally. If you consistently get fewer than 7 hours of sleep, you could be sabotaging your fitness journey without even realizing it. Unfortunately, 2/3 of Americans fall into this category, which means you might be one of them. Sleep is a critical part of health, wellness, diet, exercise and weight. If you care about your health and have a fitness goal, you should give your beauty sleep a higher spot on your priority list… Here’s why.

First of all, understand that lack of sleep and bad choices go hand in hand. Don’t be offended! This is natural and almost out of your control. If you skimp on sleep, you’re more likely to eat larger portions when you eat. You tend to crave unhealthy carbohydrates, like pasta and junk food. This over-eating and intense craving often results in weight gain.

When you’re tired, you’re also more likely to rely on coffee and lattes the next morning to get you through the day. Then you’ll probably eat a quick (aka, unhealthy) dinner when you finally get home. After that, you’re likely to skip your workout because you’re still tired… You see how the cycle continues to build on itself.

The science behind this cycle all centers on your hormones. Sleep and hormones are deeply interconnected. If you are sleeping normally and well rested, your body functions will be normal too. If you aren’t sleeping enough, it stands to reason that your body functions probably won’t work the way they are supposed to.

The hormones affected by sleep are called ghrelin and leptin. Basically, ghrelin tells your brain when it’s time to eat. When you are sleep-deprived, your body makes more of this hormone. Leptin tells your brain when you’re full. When you are sleep-deprived, your body makes less of this hormone. So:

More ghrelin + less leptin = overeating and weight gain.

In addition to these key hormones, your body experiences an increase in cortisol when you don’t get enough sleep. Most of you probably know this hormone – it’s associated with stress! When your body is filled with higher cortisol levels, your body tries to conserve more energy to fuel you. This means your body will hang on to more of the food you eat as fat. This just compounds the issue of weight gain by storing what you eat when you’re over-tired as fat.

So what can you do about this? Well, if you miss a good night of sleep once in a while, don’t worry too much. Being sleep-deprived here and there isn’t going to hurt you too much. But if you consistently skimp on sleep and this sounds like your normal schedule, you may want to try some habits in order to get back on track and sleep better.


  • Bedtime rituals – Try to do things that are relaxing rather than stressful. Getting into a routine before bed helps your mind relax, and therefore, your body. Take a bath, read, or meditate in a quiet place to quiet your mind.
  • Wake up schedules – A morning ritual is just as important as a bedtime one. Make sure to wake up at or near the same time every day, even on the weekends, so that your sleep cycle becomes consistent.
  • Be careful of what you eat/drink in the afternoon – Caffeine, tea and soda in the late afternoon, or alcohol close to bed time is sure to mess with your sleep cycle. Even if you do fall asleep, these interfere with your brains ability to fall into a deep sleep, which can leave you feeling tired.
  • The bedroom is for sleep! – Your bedroom should be a haven for sleep. Avoid high energy activities or forming habits of doing work in your bed, as this can disrupt your ability to relax in your room.
  • Sign off – Avoid the phone, laptop, and TV an hour or so before bed. Blue lights and bright lights interfere with your brain’s hormone production. Darkness signals your body to produce something called melatonin, which is needed for natural sleep. Bright lights prevent your body from making this hormone, and therefore you’ll have trouble falling asleep.
  • Exercise – Exercise is good for you anyway! Staying active can actually help you sleep better at the end of the day, because you roll into bed adequately tired enough to fall asleep and stay asleep.

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