Is Lack of SLEEP Stopping You From Losing Weight?

By Joanna 20/05/2021 In
Fitness Tips

When it comes to losing weight and getting fit, we always highlight the importance of exercising and eating a well balanced diet. YES, it is important to move daily and eat well, and that’s something I always emphasis as well. However one of the most important aspects that people tend to neglect and something we don’t often talk about is SLEEP.

When I mention about getting enough rest, I’m sure the first thing that comes into your mind is, get at least 7 - 8 hours of sleep a night! But have you ask yourself why? What is the reason? Why is it so important? What happens when you sleep? What does lack of sleep do to your body?

If you think about it, we spend 1/3 of our lives sleeping. So if you are 30 years old, you’ve been sleeping for 10 years! So, ask yourself, how important is sleeping to your overall wellbeing? Often times, lacking sleep is THE reason that’s stopping you from losing weight and seeing results!

Most of us have a consistent training routine and we consume a well balanced diet, however you fail to see results in your fitness journey. If you fix your sleeping habits, I can assure you, you will lose weight, get fitter, see results quicker and feel a lot healthier overall.

For many of us who have been lacking sleep, we’ve forgotten what being really, truly rested feels like. We are woken up everyday by the sound of our alarm clock and we drag ourselves out of bed. For some of you, it’s  a never ending cycle for many years.

And remember this, you can’t “make-up” or replace the lack of sleep, by sleeping longer hours, later on. Our body doesn’t function that way. I wish I could just spend many late nights and push through all the deadlines, and once everything is done, I’ll “catch-up” with my sleep, and spend the next one week sleeping. It just doesn’t work this way.


Sleep Stages

To get the most out of our sleep, both quantity and quality are important. While you’re sleep each night, your body typically goes through several sleep cycles. In each cycle, you alternate between two types of sleep - Non-rapid Eye Movement (NREM) and Rapid Eye Movement (REM).

To keep it simple, as we begin to fall asleep, we enter the NREM cycle. This include the stages of light sleep and deep sleep. What you really want is to have a longer deep sleep to have a good quality sleep. On the other hand, the REM stage is associated with vivid dreams.

If your sleep is cut short, the body doesn’t have time to complete all of the phases needed for muscle repair, memory consolidation and release of hormones regulating growth and appetite. That’s when weight gain can happen and this will also hinder your weight loss goal.


What happens when you lack sleep?

1. Increases Appetite & Cravings

Here’s a very common misconception. Many people think that hunger and controlling your craving is related to willpower. "If I fail to control my cravings, that’s because I lack in willpower and I’ve failed!”

But that’s actually incorrect. Your hunger is controlled by two hormones: leptin and ghrelinLeptin is a hormone that is produced in your fat cells. It is the hormone that decreases appetite. When leptin levels are high, we usually feel fuller. On the other hand, ghelin is a hormone that can stimulate appetite a.k.a. the ‘hunger hormone’. The more ghrelin your body produce, the more you stimulate hunger. To simply put, losing weight comes down to controling these two hormones - leptin and ghrelin.

When you are sleeping less than 6 hours a day, this decreases leptin and increases ghelin, which stimulates your appetite making you crave for more high sugar and high fat foods. If I lack sleep, I want my carb sugary treats, and I’m never satisfied no matter how much I eat.

At the same time, you are also putting your body under stress, which increases the cortisol levels in your body. Cortisol is a stress hormone that enlarges fat cells and promotes fat storage in the belly. So if you have come across people who are skinny but with more fat accumulation around their belly, it can be due to their stress levels. A combination of high levels of ghrelin and cortisol in your body is a disaster!

It will shut down the areas of your brain that leave you feeling satisfied after a meal. Hence if you lack sleep, you will find yourself constantly hungry and crave for junks, even if you just ate a big meal. That’s not down to lack of willpower, but a havoc on the hormones in your body.


2. Increases Caloric Intake

This leads on to my next point, lack of sleep can increase your calorie intake. When you have no control over what you eat and never feeling satisfied, that’s when you will go for bigger portions and consume unhealthy calorie dense food, which will increase your total calorie intake. A study has shown that people who slept less than 5 hours, consumed an average of 550+ calories the following day.

When you are spending more time awake especially late in the night, chances are you’ll be mindlessly munching away to keep you awake. Those are all additional calories which you won’t be consuming if you are sleeping at the right hours. Little by little, it will add on and lead to weight gain over time.

I’ve mentioned this many times in my previous videos, weight loss and weight gain comes down to one simple principle of “Energy Balance”. To lose weight, you have to create a NEGATIVE energy balance, that means your total daily energy expenditure (TDEE) should be more than what you consume. However if you are eating more than what your body is able to burn, that’s when weight gain happens.

Lose weight = Higher TDEE, Less Food Intake

Weight Gain = More Food Intake, Lower TDEE


3. Increases Belly Fat Storage

Sleep also influences your metabolism, especially glucose metabolism. When we eat, our bodies release insulin, a hormone that helps to process the glucose in our blood. Lack of sleep can affect our bodies’ response to insulin. Your body’s insulin sensitivity can drop by more than 30% and here’s why that is bad.

When your insulin is functioning well, fat cells remove fatty acids and lipids from your bloodstream and prevent storage. When you become more insulin-resistant, fats circulate in your blood and pump out more insulin. An excess of glucose ends up being converted to fatty acids and being stored as fat in all the wrong places, such as around your belly. In the long term, this will lead to weight gain and even health conditions like type-2 diabetes.


4. Decreases Workout Performance

We’ve spoken about how sleep affects your food intake. Unfortunately, lack of sleep also have an impact on your workouts. We want to increase lean muscle mass and reduce body fat. Having more lean muscle increases your metabolism, helping you to burn fat more efficiently. This will help you to main a health body weight long term.

However lack of sleep is the enemy of muscle. Sleep debt can decrease protein synthesis, which is your body’s ability to increase muscle. It can also cause muscle loss and lead to higher risk of injuries.

I’m sure you’ve experienced this yourself. When you are tired and exhausted, you don’t feel like working out. Even if you do, your training might not be at 100%. Everything you do feels more challenging and you struggle to give your best effort.

Lack of sleep will also make it harder for your body to recover. That’s because the production of growth hormone that helps with fat-burning and also recovery, slows down in your body. When you can’t recover, you can’t progress in your workout!

Most times, people think that by spending more hours exercising, it will speed up their results. That’s absolutely WRONG! Results comes from getting adequate recovery, because your muscle grow and repairs WHEN you rest, NOT when you workout. So if you find yourself hitting a plateau or not seeing progress even though you are putting lots of effort in your training, it can be due to your sleep habits and not prioritising your recovery.


How to Sleep Better

So now that you know the importance of sleep and how it can help with weight loss. Here are some simple tips for you to increase the quality of your sleep.

1. Keep a regular sleep routine

Just like having a routine to eat and exercise. You need to establish a regular sleep routine too. This will maintain the timing of the body’s internal clock and can help you fall asleep and wake up more easily.

For those of you who never have a sleep routine before, it can be challenging to force yourself to go to bed by 11pm. However, it’s just a matter of practicing the routine, identifying what works and doesn’t work and make adjustments until you fall into a consistent routine.


2. Don’t eat a heavy meal right before bed

If you find yourself craving a late-night snack, avoid eating a large meal. Eating a heavy meal before bed can  cause the body’s metabolism to slow and make it harder for you to fall asleep. If you are craving at night, chances are it’s late and you just need to go to bed and SLEEP. If however you are really hungry, then have a small snack such as a piece of toast, fruits or oatmeal. Something healthy to keep you satisfied.


3. No electronics before bedtime

Hands up, if the last thing you look at before going to bed if your phone!! Let’s be honest, I’m guilty of that myself. What’s the function of your mobile phone? It’s to keep you connected and alert, correct? So as you’re mindlessly scrolling through your social media feed watching videos even if you are already feeling sleepy, this can trick your brain into thinking that it needs to stay awake. What’s worse is when you struggle to disconnect yourself from your work emails or text messages.

The blue light from our smart phones and other electronic devices has been shown to reduce or delay the natural production of melatonin and decrease the feelings of sleepiness. Melatonin is a hormone responsible for controlling your sleep-wake cycle. So when your body runs low on it, you can experience insomnia, tiredness during the day and irritability.

Nowadays, there are options on your phone to set the “nighttime mode”, where you can keep the notifications switched off and minimise distractions 30 minutes before your bedtime. (show graphics here) You don’t always have to be connected on your phone. Instead, spend the time to connect with your loved ones before bedtime.


In Essence

Sleep is one of the most important aspects of our life, health and longevity and yet it is increasingly neglected in society nowadays due to work, electronic devices and so on.

When we sleep well, we wake up feeling refreshed and alert to start our day. Sleep affects how we look, feel and perform on a daily basis, and can have a major impact on our overall quality of life. Beyond just eating a well balanced diet and exercising regularly, sleep is also one of the most important aspects in losing weight and maintaining a healthy weight for life.



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