WEIGHT MANAGEMENT ∙ 3 minutes read

How is sleep related to weight loss?

By Joseph Lee | Medically reviewed by Dr Jaskirt Matharu

Imagine if you could go to sleep and wake up an improved version of yourself? 

Maybe you wish your memory was a bit better and you were able to remember people’s names when they’re introduced to you. For some people, the thought of waking up without a beer belly is more appealing. Whereas for others, gaining extra body mass in specific areas would make them go to sleep with a smile on their face.

Well, a better night’s sleep might help you recall information because during deep sleep your brain is actively trying to link the memories it’s experienced. But if you want to wake up with your ideal body weight and body composition overnight, it’s highly likely you’re still dreaming. 

Whether you want to lose excess weight or gain healthy weight there’s no quick fix to weight management. It requires routine, with mental and physical stimulation. Similarly, a good night’s sleep happens when you get into a healthy routine. 

Sleep might require less movement than physical exercise, but that doesn't mean our bodies don’t burn calories and use up energy when we’re snoozing. 

Do you burn calories when you sleep?

The average person spends around one-third of their life asleep. But is it possible to do other things if you are in the land of nod, like burn calories when you sleep?

During each of the four stages of the sleep cycle, our bodies are internally engaging in various activities that help us to get ready for the day ahead. When resting, each person’s body is going through a metabolic process, using energy to carry out basic functions such as breathing. This metabolism at rest is known as the basal metabolic rate (BMR). Although each person has their own BMR, the average person burns around 50 calories each hour when sleeping

Our bodies burn calories even during the deepest part of our sleep cycle, NREM, where breathing, muscle activity and heart rate are at their lowest throughout the night. Glucose metabolism also happens during NREM and involves the hormone insulin, which allows our bodies to break down food and transform it into energy. 

Research shows that up to five days of sleep deprivation, getting less than 6 hours of sleep a night, is enough to interfere with your body’s insulin sensitivity, and some research even shows just one night of sleep deprivation is enough to skew insulin production in healthy people. This means that just a single bad night’s sleep will impact the way our body transfers energy from sugars and carbohydrates, leading to increased fat storage. 

Does being overweight affect sleep?

Being overweight can impact both the duration and quality of sleep a person has. These problems can also signal other health conditions such as depression or heart disease. Various disorders that are linked to obesity may also lead to sleep problems.

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a chronic condition that leaks the contents of someone’s stomach into their oesophagus, producing the painful sensation of heartburn. Symptoms of GERD are often worse when people try to go to sleep as lying down makes it easier for the stomach contents to travel up to the oesphagus and ‘spill’ out. This is likely to disturb sleep or decrease a smooth night’s sleep, at least. As obesity is a known risk factor for this condition, it’s likely to affect people carrying excess weight.

Asthma

Obesity increases a person’s risk of developing asthma and their experience of having more severe symptoms. This condition is the result of inflammation of the airway which can flare up during nighttime, causing difficulty drifting off. 

Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis is the wearing down of cartilage which affects a person’s joints. Carrying excess weight can cause osteoarthritis due to extra weight bearing down on the joints, especially on weight-loaded areas such as knees and ankles. Osteoarthritis has a shared relationship with depression, pain and disturbed sleep, where these conditions interact to cause many frustrated, sleepless nights.

Sleep Apnea

The most common sleep disruption that overweight and obese people experience is obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). Overweight and obese people in particular are prone to OSA as increased fatty deposits in their neck, known as pharyngeal fat, put pressure on the airways. Pressure from excess fat around the stomach is also detrimental to easy breathing, as chest wall compression decreases the amount of air the lungs can provide. Whilst the airflow is lower, there is more chance of the lungs collapsing when asleep.

Due to the effects of air being pushed through a small passageway, a bit like breathing through a straw, snoring is a very common side effect of sleep apnea. Whilst people who sleep next to those with sleep apnea may feel like they are experiencing disruption due to unwanted noise at night, it’s far from deep sleep for those with OSA.

OSA is usually accompanied by sleep disruption. Many people with the condition wake up lots during the night and complain of headaches, being irritable and feeling tired the next day.

The bottom line 

Sleep is linked to weight management, as each person burns calories during sleep as part of their basal metabolic rate. People who are overweight or obese are prone to conditions that impact sleep quality and duration. If you’re struggling with sleep issues such as sleep apnea, these could be rectified by shedding some excess weight. You can try out our 5 simple exercises for weight management to help you get a better night’s sleep. Couple this with a natural night-time supplement and you’ll be on the way to decent sleep… but remember, a better night’s sleep is the result of routine - it’s the key to rest, regrowth and readiness for whatever the next day will bring.