Can't Shed Those Pounds?

A lack of zzzzs can affect your ability to lose weight

By Michael Breus, PhD, D, ABSM
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Feature

Reviewed By Stuart Meyers

To lose weight seems to be the number one resolution each new year. However, nearly 90% of these resolutions meet with either little or no success. Some people even gain weight instead. Most people never know there may be a very simple reason why: They don't sleep well.

Studies published in The Journal of the American Medical Association and The Lancet suggest that sleep loss may increase hunger and affect the body's metabolism, which may make it more difficult to maintain or lose weight.

Sleep loss appears to do two things:

  1. Makes you feel hungry even if you are full. Sleep loss has been shown to affect the secretion of cortisol, a hormone that regulates appetite. As a result, individuals who lose sleep may continue to feel hungry despite adequate food intake.

  2. Increases fat storage. Sleep loss may interfere with the body's ability to metabolize carbohydrates, which leads to high levels of blood sugar. Excess blood sugar promotes the overproduction of insulin, which can lead to the storage of body fat and insulin resistance, a critical step into the development of diabetes.

Why would an overweight person tend to have sleep problems? There appear to be several reasons why this may occur:

  • Many people who are overweight have sleep apnea, a disorder in which breathing starts and stops during sleep, consequently causing numerous awakenings. This may occur hundreds of times a night, without your even knowing it. So you can imagine how sleepy you could feel the next day.
  • Some who are overweight have low back pain, making lying comfortably in bed and getting a good night's sleep difficult.
  • People who are depressed or otherwise worried about their weight may have insomnia, or the inability to fall asleep.