An Explainer Guide to Poor Sleep and Weight Gain

Mehak Shah

September 22, 2023

Over the past several decades, the percentage of people with sleep deficit problems has steadily increased. Continuous sleep deprivation is a serious threat, both physically and mentally. Lack of sleep affects performance at work and daily chores. But the most difficult part is that it is also directly linked to many life-threatening disorders, including diabetes, high blood pressure, stroke, and obesity.

Women sleeping five hours or less were 32% more likely to have a 15 kg weight gain, and those sleeping six hours were 12% more likely. The general conclusion was that a weight gain range of 10 kg to 25 kg correlates to sleeping for 5 hours or less.

Good quality of sleep is essential for a long and healthy life. However, 1 out of 3 people suffers from poor sleep. One night spent tossing and turning won’t do much harm, but persistent sleep deprivation can become a real problem. So before you turn to medications and a calorie-restricted diet, try to normalise your sleeping patterns to see a change in your weight.

The Connection Between Poor Sleep and Weight Gain

While there is continuing debate about the relationship between sleep and weight, numerous studies show that your weight tends to increase if you get less sleep than required. For example, a JAMA Internal Medicine journal study says that shorter sleep duration leads to higher body mass index. In addition, on average, sleep-deprived people ate 300 extra calories per day. Further, they developed a preference for fatty foods. Also, while people began to binge due to inadequate sleep, they did not burn those extra calories. Thus, calorie consumption exceeds the value of calorie expenditure. If you stay consistent with such pattern, the net result is weight gain.

When you eat also appears to be crucial in understanding your weight gain pattern. For instance, eating late in the day and going to bed much later than most puts you at risk of weight gain. It has been noted that late sleepers eat about 250 calories more than early sleepers. Tiredness from lack of sleep sends out the wrong signals to the brain. It primarily impacts the function of ghrelin and leptin, two hormones regulating your drive to eat. The leptin hormone tells you when to stop eating, and ghrelin; also known as a hunger hormone, is your signal to eat. When you fail to get enough sleep, leptin levels decrease, and the brain then sends hunger signals. As a result, you eat — even though you’re not hungry. The extra calories taken in are stored as fat, leading to weight gain.

Ghrelin, is responsible for making you feel hungry. Its level naturally decreases when you’re asleep. However, when you’re suffering from poor sleep, the ghrelin levels don’t drop as much as they should. Thus, leaving you feeling hungrier. It, in turn, makes you eat more food even when the body doesn’t need it. This situation will lead to weight gain.

Other Health Consequences of Poor Sleep

When you are sleep deprived for a prolonged period, you develop chronic sleep deficiency. It is a harmful health condition where you cannot make up for your lost sleep. In addition, it increases the risk for various diseases. Diabetes, blood pressure, heart disorders, obesity, and stress are some health consequences. 

Here are a few of the health risks of insufficient sleep.

Increase in Appetite

There is a strong link between appetite, sleep, and body weight, maintained by neurotransmitters. They are chemical messengers that help nerve cells to convey messages to other cells. 

The neurotransmitters signal when your body needs food or calories. The hormones ghrelin and leptin balance the appetite. As you know, ghrelin stimulates hunger, and leptin makes you satiated. Your body balances these hormones via neurotransmitters. Insufficient sleep causes an imbalance in the neurotransmitters, resulting in increased appetite. Do note that this kind of abnormal appetite increase is not healthy. 

People who just had 4 hours of sleep have high ghrelin and low leptin levels. This imbalance of ghrelin and leptin enhances your appetite and reduces your sensation of fullness. As a result, it makes you overeat, resulting in weight gain.

Decreases Metabolism

Metabolism is a process where your body cells transform your food into energy. All activity of your body is a part of metabolism. It includes breathing, movement, blood circulation and likewise. 

Study shows that lack of sleep leads to irregularities in metabolism. It results in stress, diabetes and high blood pressure. Moreover, less sleep may affect biological rhythms. It further results in weight gain.

Inhibits Physical Activity

Physical activity is necessary for overall well being and is directly linked to sleep. Lack of sleep makes you weak and exhausted. Thus, your energy level for physical activity and workouts reduces. Moreover, exercising in such instances is unsafe, especially with swimming and weightlifting. Poor rate of physical activities makes you unfit and impacts your health. 

Can Adequate Sleep Help With Weight Loss?

Investigations support that those with 8 hours of quality sleep per night can help lose 10 pounds in the long term. When you sleep, you tend to burn around 50-80 calories per hour of sleep. Therefore, an uninterrupted 8 hours of sleep can burn nearly 640 calories. Thus, adequate sleep helps weight loss. If you’re trying to lose weight, diet and exercise are just as important as sleep. 

Getting enough sleep keeps the hunger hormones in check, preventing you from eating excess calories. A person who had a good night’s sleep is less likely to feel frequent food cravings. When you get adequate sleep, the body makes less ghrelin and more leptin, leaving you satiated and suppressing your appetite. In addition, sleeping early can prevent late-night snacking, a leading cause of weight gain. 

Adequate sleep offers potential benefits for your metabolism. It boosts your resting metabolic rate and stimulates your body to burn more calories. Thus, promoting healthy weight loss. In addition, good sleep can positively impact your athletic performance, allowing you to stay active throughout the day. 

How to Get a Good Quality of Sleep?

Maintain a Sleep Schedule

Apart from a sleep routine, a sleep schedule is equally important. Maintain a consistent sleep schedule because huge fluctuations in your sleep cycle affect your metabolism. It sets a time on when to go to bed and wake up. The best time to sleep is 10 pm and wake up by 6:30 to 7 am. It is compatible with the natural circadian rhythm. Moreover, the period of deep sleep is typically between 2 am to 4 am. Therefore, ensure you are in pleasant sleep during this time. 

It is ideal to follow the same time regularly. Moulding yourself to sleep at a similar time adapts your body to anticipate sleep. The body will soon accustom itself to this regularity. Moreover, set the alarm to remind you an hour before bedtime. It helps you to wrap up your day on time.

Dim Lit Room and Optimum Temperature

Artificial light from a TV or a night lamp can interrupt your sleep. Therefore, it is ideal to sleep in a dark or dim-lit room. A study shows that exposure to artificial light increases your chance of obesity. Moreover, set the room temperature that suits your comfort. Extremely hot or cold may affect your sleep.

Avoid Eating Right Before Bedtime

People who eat before bedtime are more likely to have a poor sleep. It can be because bedtime food is considered an extra meal. Thus, extra calories. It causes various health disturbances, especially indigestion and heartburn. It, in turn, interrupts your sleep.

Moreover, lying down with a full stomach can cause abdominal discomfort and delayed digestion. It causes the food contents to flow back to the food pipe, leading to uneasiness in your chest and abdomen. Thus, resulting in heartburn, indigestion, acid reflux, and much more. Additionally, it affects your sleep cycle. Eating a heavy meal just before sleep initiates weight gain too.

Reduce Stress

Chronic stress negatively affects your sleep. A study shows that stressful periods increase mean cortisol levels approximately nine times. As a result of too much cortisol, you stay awake for long periods. In addition, stress-induced cortisol production leads to fragmented sleep patterns, shortened overall sleep time, and even insomnia. 

Moreover, stress increases your insulin levels, causing a craving to eat more during the night. It also causes fat deposits in the stomach resulting in belly fat. When a person remains stressed for a longer duration, the risk of weight gain is higher. Thus, reducing stress is the first step toward a healthy sleep cycle. In addition, you can try yoga, meditation, listening to light music and performing leisure activities to reduce stress. 

Waking up Early

When you wake up early, you tend to sleep accordingly. First, it ensures a good sleep pattern. It adapts your body according to the circadian rhythm. As a result, early risers tend to go to bed earlier and enjoy a better, longer sleep quality.

Moreover, you lose more body weight when you sleep early than those who stay late. However, a well-balanced diet and regular exercise are equally essential.


Diet and exercise are considered the key factors controlling weight, but sleep is just as important and often overlooked. Getting good quality sleep is necessary to keep your weight in check. There’s a positive correlation between good sleep and healthy body weight.

An occasional night without sleep will not harm your health. However, repeated cycles of poor quality sleep make you prone to multiple medical conditions. In addition, people who are sleep deprived eat significantly more calories, which accounts for unhealthy weight gain. Unfortunately, a large proportion of people are sleep deprived. There’s only one way to compensate for sleeping less – catch up on lost sleep. Identify the causes of your sleep problem and formulate a solution plan for you to follow. When you sleep well, everything feels better.

Frequently Asked Question (FAQs)

Q. How does sleep affect weight?

A. Sleep influences leptin and ghrelin, two important appetite hormones in your body. The former decreases appetite, and the latter stimulates appetite. Therefore, poor sleep leads to higher ghrelin levels and low leptin levels, making you more likely to overeat. Consequently, increased calorie intake due to disrupted appetite hormones results in weight gain.

Q. Can you lose weight from sleeping?

A. While the body does not burn much fat during sleep, you can still manage your weight with healthy sleep cycles. For example, you might burn 0.4 to 0.5 calories for every pound of body weight for every hour of sleep. However, the weight you lose while sleeping is water weight. Therefore, a balanced diet and exercise are incredibly vital for weight loss.  

Q. Does sleep affect belly fat?

A. No, there’s no significant impact of sleep on belly fat. However, sleep deprivation can cause weight gain, leading to fat deposits in the belly region. In addition, when you don’t get enough sleep, the tendency to binge eat brings in more calories than you need. It, in turn, increases waist circumference from belly fat accumulation. 

Q. How can I gain weight while sleeping?

A. You won’t gain weight from sleeping unless you’re sleeping less or sleeping more. Getting optimum sleep prevents weight gain. If you’re physically inactive, sleeping too much causes weight gain. Poor sleep increases hunger and appetite, particularly for calorie-rich foods, leading to weight gain. 

Q. Is 5 hours of sleep enough?

A. No, five hours of sleep is not enough. Getting less than seven to eight hours of sleep leads to a decline in bodily functions. Most adults require at least eight hours of sleep each night. 

Q. Does waking up early help you lose weight?

A. Waking up early after sleeping for decent hours aids in weight loss. Early risers show better biological clock rhythm, eat high-energy, healthy foods, and stay active throughout the day. Thus, directing them to a better weight loss schedule. 

Q. Can you lose a pound overnight?

A. Weight is dynamic and tends to change frequently. It is possible to lose a pound overnight, but this weight loss can be due to sweating and urination. Thus, overnight weight loss is a result of water loss and it is not suitable in any way. 

Q. How many calories do you burn sleeping for 8 hours?

A. The average adult will burn between 50 to 80 calories per hour of sleep. So for an eight-hour sleep schedule, you might burn anywhere between 600 to 620 calories. However, it heavily depends on your age, gender, weight, health status, and how much time you spend sleeping. 

Q. Is it OK to sleep after a meal?

A. Going to sleep directly after eating a meal is not recommended. Sleeping with a full stomach can cause gastrointestinal discomfort, leading to heartburn, acidity, and indigestion. Furthermore, sleeping right after a meal doesn’t give your body time to burn calories. 

Q. What is the best time to sleep and wake up?

A. Try waking up daily between 6:30 to 7 am. Also, try to sleep before 10 pm. However, the best times to sleep and wake up will vary among individuals. Aim for consistency in sleep schedule. 

About the Author

Mehak holds masters in foods and nutrition from Amity university, Noida. She has a keen interest in public health and nutrition and has been in charge of various projects with milestone NGO. She has worked with people over the globe to bring out the changes in their lives and has always been working towards lifestyle modifications via good dietary practices. According to her a healthy lifestyle is not about the destination but all about the journey.

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