Food for thought: Sleep more, lose weight

How much sleep is enough to ensure we are well rested and tuned into a weight-loss setting?

Getting enough sleep is crucial for many aspects of health. iStockphoto
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Sleep more, lose weight? Yes, this does sound too good to be true: given all the advice to get active to lose weight, the idea of sleeping more to achieve this seems rather counter-intuitive.

But research from Tübingen and Lübeck universities in Germany and Uppsala University in Sweden investigated the relationship between sleep and obesity. The study monitored the effect of sleep deprivation on hunger, physical exercise and energy used by the body. The results found that those who were sleep-deprived felt more hungry than those who had enjoyed undisturbed sleep. There were also higher levels of the hunger hormone, ghrelin, detected in their blood.

Furthermore, after a subject missed one night's sleep completely, the study showed that this reduced the amount of energy used by the body when resting. This tells us that the more sleep-deprived we become, the hungrier we feel and the less activity we want to do. Crucially this study also tells us that the less sleep we have, the less energy our body uses even when we are at rest. Over time this could certainly lead to weight gain and significantly so if disturbed sleep continues.

A new study by the journal

Nature Communications

, as cited last week by

The New York Times

, confirms the relationship between sleep loss and weight gain. In a study featuring 23 male and female subjects, those who were sleep-deprived strongly preferred food choices highest in calories. “The foods they requested when they were sleep-deprived added up to about 600 calories more than the foods that they wanted when they were well rested,” reported

The New York Times


A good night's sleep will help to regulate your body clock, which in turn helps to regulate your appetite. More sleep also means that your body is more likely to utilise energy stores that have been accumulated from food consumption. To lose weight this is essential, otherwise fat is literally trapped within the body and continually stored.

So how much sleep is enough to ensure we are well rested and tuned into a weight-loss setting?

According to the National Sleep Foundation, there is no magic number and this really depends on your age and lifestyle. As a guide, teenagers need an average of 8.5 to 9.25 hours and adults 7 to 9 hours. It is true to say that what is most important is quality of sleep; this means undisturbed sleep throughout the night, allowing your body to enter into a deep and restful period of sleep.

To help you get a good night's sleep, avoid caffeine and sugar in the evenings as these can prevent deep relaxation. Sipping valerian tea has been shown to be a helpful aid to get you in the mood to sleep – it's available from nutrition stores and some supermarkets.

Laura Holland is a well-being consultant and nutritional therapist. For more information, go to

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