Exploring the Connection Between Sleep and Weight Management

By Jacquelyn Scott
Monday, September 26, 2022

A recent sleep study indicates people who sleep more eat less. Research findings indicate that sufficient sleep could benefit overweight and obese patients.

A recent study published in The Journal of the American Medical Association found that people who averaged less than 6.5 hours of sleep per night consumed around 270 fewer calories when they lengthened their sleep duration by 1.2 hours per night. While energy expenditures did not differ between the control group and test group, these findings indicate that more sleep could help overweight and obese patients reduce their weight or assist in weight loss interventions.

“Short sleep duration causes individuals to feel hungry and consume excess food,” says Dale Schoeller, PhD, co-author of the study and professor of nutritional sciences at University of Wisconsin–Madison. “Adding sufficient sleep to one’s lifestyle can help control hunger and prevent weight gain and may help one to adhere to a weight loss treatment. [Adequate sleep] is at least as important as dietary and physical activity changes to control body weight.”

A Formula for Weight Loss

Based on the findings of this study, primary care or bariatric providers might consider writing a sleep prescription, encouraging overweight or obese patients to sleep more. These patients can also monitor their sleep with wearable trackers and keep diaries to help them understand and improve their progress.

“Health professionals should recommend that overweight or obese patients obtain sufficient sleep (seven to nine hours per night) as part of efforts to prevent further weight gain or lose excess weight,” Schoeller says. “This [advice] applies best to patients who voluntarily restrict sleep and sleep less than the recommended seven to nine hours per night.”

In combination with a sleep prescription, providers might consider recommending sleep hygiene strategies to patients who struggle with getting enough sleep.

“One of the primary reasons sleep duration is insufficient in the [United States] is the use of electronic devices during [bedtime],” Schoeller says. “Home computers, televisions and smartphone devices should be turned off and not located in the bedroom during [bedtime]. Vigorous physical activity and the consumption of meals or snacks should be avoided during the late evening.”

If a patient still struggles to meet adequate sleep targets, a sleep study may be in order to make sure they aren’t suffering from a sleep-related disorder, such as obstructive sleep apnea. While the study did not focus on sleep apnea, Schoeller notes that related studies are underway.