Need to Lose Weight? Get More Sleep!

Patient Expert
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The number of people worldwide who are obese has more than doubled in the last 35 years, and the numbers are growing every year. If you are one of the millions of people fighting a weight-loss battle — a challenge that is more common for thyroid patients — what if there is something you can do to lose weight that doesn’t involve munching on endless bowls of kale, hours of spin classes, and sore muscles? There is, and you can do it from your bed! Get more sleep.

The United Kingdom study published in July 2017 in the journal PLoS One, found that adults who have poor sleep patterns and who don’t get enough sleep are significantly more likely to have poor metabolic health and be overweight — or obese — compared to those who get sufficient sleep.

The study evaluated the connection between length of sleep, diet, waist circumference, and body weight, as well as markers for metabolic health, including blood pressure, cholesterol levels, blood sugar, and thyroid function.

Some of the key findings of the UK study:

  • Sleeping around six hours a night or less — known as “short sleep” — results in increases in waist circumference, compared to those who get nine hours of sleep each night.

  • Short sleep increased the risk of a higher body mass index (BMI).

  • Short sleep is related to lower levels of high density lipoprotein (HDL), the “good” cholesterol that helps protect against heart disease, and higher levels of artery-clogging triglycerides.

  • Short sleep is associated with higher levels of hemoglobin A1C, a measurement of blood sugar levels over time.

  • Short sleep is associated with lower levels of free thyroxine (free T4), a thyroid hormone.

  • Short sleep is associated with higher levels of C-reactive protein (CRP), a marker for inflammation.

The UK study is the latest in a series of studies that show that short sleep is clearly linked to weight, obesity, and metabolic health. Here are some important findings from other recent studies:

Researchers have found that short sleep affects your weight and metabolism via four key pathways:

  • Short sleep tends to trigger overeating, especially higher-calorie and sugary, high-carbohydrate foods.

  • Short sleep decreases the amount of energy you expend — an important factor in overall metabolism.

Your next steps?

If you are overweight or obese and you are not sleeping at least 7 hours per night, increasing your sleep should be a top priority. Some doctors even recommend sleeping in instead of cutting your sleep short for morning workouts!

HealthCentral’s sleep expert Martin Reed recommends that you start by developing a pre-sleep routine, and then work on improving your sleep hygiene. You can also review these helpful 25 tips for better sleep. If self-care approaches don’t make a dent in your sleep deficit, it’s time to talk with your health care practitioner about a sleep study to determine if there are health reasons making it harder to sleep (i.e., sleep apnea, which is more common in people with hypothyroidism) and explore the range of approaches and treatments that can help.

See more helpful articles:

Understanding Sleep Apnea

25 Tips to Achieve Better Sleep

The Risks for and Symptoms of Hypothyroidism