Sleep and weight – what is the connection?

Sleep and weight – what is the connection?

Two hormones, leptin and ghrelin, are the master controllers of appetite. Ghrelin stimulates appetite by signalling hunger, while leptin indicates fullness, suppresses appetite and increases energy expenditure. In a properly functioning brain, the two hormones are released on and off to regulate appetite. Inadequate sleep disrupts these hormones: insufficient sleep increases ghrelin levels and decreases leptin levels, making you feel hungrier and less satisfied throughout the day. This often leads to increased snacking on high-sugar-high-fat foods, which are associated with higher risks of diabetes, obesity, and poor dietary choices.

Weight management and fat storage: A large two-year study found that sleep quality predicts weight loss success. Those with sleep disturbances were less successful in losing weight and retained a higher fat percentage compared to those with adequate sleep. Sleep deprivation is linked to increased fat deposits, especially around the torso. The elevated ghrelin level from lack of sleep stimulates appetite and tells the body to stop burning calories and to store the energy as fat because it is like there is a shortage. The same study indicated that individuals who lose body fat but suffer from sleep deprivation are more likely to regain the lost weight due to increased appetite and snacking, influenced by poor sleep.

Metabolic impact: Poor sleep disrupts circadian rhythms and affects metabolism, including glucose and cholesterol processing. Sleep deprivation is strongly associated with type 2 diabetes. Those with inconsistent sleep patterns and fewer than five to six hours of sleep per night have significantly higher fasting blood sugar levels and a higher risk of type 2 diabetes.


  • Aim for 7-9 hours per night, every night
  • Exercise usually results in a good night’s sleep; make exercise part of your lifestyle
  • Avoid working till bedtime, especially with a laptop/PC
  • Avoid caffeine or alcohol close to bedtime. Caffeine may keep you awake and alcohol may disrupt your normal sleep patterns.
  • Heavy, late meals are also better avoided because the discomfort of a full stomach may disrupt your sleep
  • Establish a bed-time routine which over time will signal to your brain that it is time to sleep. More information on sleep hygiene can be found here.
  1. 3 ways decreased sleep contributes to overeating
  2. Papatriantafyllou E, et al. Sleep Deprivation: Effects on Weight Loss and Weight Loss Maintenance. Nutrients. 2022; 14:1549.
  3. Li A, et al. Sleep Disturbance and Changes in Energy Intake and Body Composition During Weight Loss in the POUNDS Lost Trial. Diabetes. 2022; 71:934-944.
  4. Van Egmond LT, et al. Effects of acute sleep loss on leptin, ghrelin, and adiponectin in adults with healthy weight and obesity: A laboratory study. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2023; 31:635-641.
  5. Sleep and Weight: Is There a Connection?

Dr. Acham Hedwig is a distinguished Senior Lecturer in the Department of Food Technology and Nutrition. Holding a Ph.D. in Nutrition, she focuses on innovative strategies to enhance public health through improved nutrition. Dr. Hedwig's research delves into the nutritional value of food products and dietary interventions, assessing their impact on health outcomes and educating the masses about good nutrition. Beyond her academic duties, Dr. Hedwig collaborates actively with industry partners and health organizations, translating her research into practical applications. This commitment to bridging academia and industry has significantly enhanced the real-world impact of her work, particularly in improving nutritional standards and promoting healthier eating habits.

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