Sleep Less, Weigh More? How Poor Sleep Habits Could Sabotage your Fitness Goals

Most studies show a link between lack of sleep and risk for obesity


Especially when you’re trying to fit exercising and eating well into an already packed schedule, aiming for an earlier bedtime (or just to get more sleep in general) might seem like a goal that’s far out of reach.

However, if you’re seriously set on achieving your weight loss goals, it’s likely that your success will also depend on getting adequate amounts of sleep.

Related: Before Bed Habits for a Better Night’s Sleep

In fact, results from one recent study even suggest that sleep may be more important than exercise when it comes to losing weight. When compared with those who achieve adequate amounts of sleep, the researchers found that sleep-restricted adults (those who slept for only four hours a night) may be more prone to weight gain as a result of consuming more calories throughout the day.

And this effect may not just be a result of people having more time to eat, but also because lack of sleep throws our hormones out of whack. When we miss out on sleep the body produces more ghrelin, a hormone that causes us to feel hungrier (even if we’re really not), and less leptin, a hormone that causes us to feel full and satisfied.

Does less sleep mean a greater risk for obesity?
According to the Harvard School of Public Health, most cross-sectional studies measuring adult’s sleep habits have found a link between short sleep duration and obesity. However, in longitudinal studies the organization points out, the findings have been less consistent.

On the other hand, one of the longest and largest sleep studies to date found that when compared with women who slept seven hours each night, women who slept five hours or less each night were 15 percent more likely to become obese over the course of the study. The study followed 68,000 middle-age American women for up to 16 years.

What’s the magic number?
The amount of sleep that’s necessary for good health varies from person to person, but there are some simple guidelines you can follow to make sure you’re getting enough sleep and an amount that’s right for you.

Guidelines issued by the National Sleep Foundation (NSF) suggest the following time spans for adequate sleep amounts among select age groups:

Newborns (0-3 months): 14-17 hours each day

Infants (4-11 months): 12-15 hours

Toddlers (1-2 years): 11-14 hours

Preschoolers (3-5): 10-13 hours

School age children (6-13): 9-11 hours

Teenagers (14-17): 8-10 hours

Younger adults (18-25): 7-9 hours

Adults (26-64): 7-9 hours

Older adults (65+): 7-8 hours

Essentially, adults should aim for anywhere from seven to nine hours of sleep each night in order to maintain good health.

The NSF noted that individuals should pay attention to their specific needs and suggests that you experiment with and assess how you feel on different amounts of sleep so that you can create a habit that allows you to continually feel good.

"Pay careful attention to your mood, energy and health after a poor night's sleep versus a good one," the organization explained. "Ask yourself, ‘How often do I get a good night's sleep?’ Like good diet and exercise, sleep is a critical component to overall health."

More Reading:
13 Tips for Getting a Better Night’s Sleep
How to Get a Good Night's Sleep, Even if You Work Out at Night
Gadgets, Tools and Apps that can Help You Get a Better Night's Sleep