Who needs sleep?

Maybe you, if diet and exercise aren’t enough to help you maintain or lose weight.

[Note: I wrote this post a part of a research project my professor called “Theory to Tweet” in March 2013. I’ll continue to share what I learn as I go from sport and clinical psychology assignments.]

  • Did you get more than 7 hours of sleep last night?
  • Do you have a regular wake up and bedtime?
  • Is it easy for you to maintain your weight through diet and exercise?


If you answered “NO” to these questions, you may be interested to learn how losing sleep adds to weight gain. Recent studies link sleep deprivation to stress and changes in the brain, resulting in high calorie cravings.

Let’s take a look at why researchers are interested in the connection between sleep loss and weight gain. It’s well known that prevalence of obesity has dramatically risen over the past half century. In fact, more than two out of three Americans are currently classified as overweight or obese. Unfortunately, obesity carries with it increased risk for heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and certain cancers. And the total estimated annual cost of obesity in the U.S. is $147 billion!

At the same time, there as been an observed parallel trend of chronic sleep deprivation among Americans. The recommended amount of sleep is 7-9 hours per night for adults, and 40 percent of U.S. adults reported sleeping less. So as sleep has decreased, obesity has been on the rise. Although current treatment guidelines recommend weight loss and physical activity as standard treatment for obesity, more experts are also calling for adequate sleep to promote an overall healthy lifestyle.

sleep chart

In today’s environment, tasty foods high in sugar and fat are readily available for consumption. When combined with the modern way of living that promotes sedentary behavior and demands more time spent awake for productivity and social activity, opportunities abound to overeat. One study found that participants on 4 hours of sleep gained significantly more weight (two pounds on average) versus the one-quarter pound gained by those getting 10 hours of sleep over a two-week period. Extrapolate that out over a year, and that equates to 52 pounds!

Another study discovered that participants preferred energy-dense foods high in fat and carbs significantly more than their well-rested counterparts, and cravings occurred in proportion to the severity of sleep loss. This means that the more sleep deprived you are, the temptation and possibility to overeat increases. The combination of later bedtimes and available energy-dense foods with sedentary, screen-based entertainment encourage overeating for someone who is sleep deprived, setting off a cycle of weight gain that may eventually lead to obesity.

Although these results are alarming, you can take action. Sleep can be normalized with nine days by following a few guidelines. The National Sleep Foundation recommends establishing a consistent daily wake up and bedtime to allow for 7-9 hours of sleep and creating a sleep space that is dark and comfortable. So do yourself a favor — turn off the TV, computer, and smartphone, and get some extra ZZZzzz’s!

tips for better sleep

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