Sleep and Weight Loss
(The Ultimate Guide)
Last Updated on
Reviewed by Donna Schowntkowski, DC, MS
We all know the important role diet and exercise play in losing weight. But did you know one of the easiest ways to shed pounds is by getting quality sleep? Not only that, it's also one of the most effective methods to reduce your waistline. When you add in this last piece of the puzzle to your daily life, there's no stopping you from reaching your weight goals. In this guide, we'll show you exactly how to lose weight while sleeping without requiring much effort. So, let's dive in!
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Why We Lose Weight While Sleeping
Before we get into specific tactics to help you lose weight over the course of the night, let's first touch on some basics. For starters, why do we even lose weight while sleeping in the first place? After all, it seems a bit counterintuitive to be able to shed pounds without lifting a finger for hours on end. Let's see how all this works...
The Basics of Metabolism
Although we often think of exercise as a big calorie-burning activity, did you know that most of the calories your body burns on a daily basis are primarily used for the basic body functions that keep you alive?
The number of calories required for everyday functions like breathing, thinking, and digestion is referred to as the "basal metabolic rate," or BMR. In other words, the BMR is the number of calories your body burns while at rest throughout the day and night.
Now, the BMR is around 10 calories per pound of body weight during the day. But interestingly, the BMR still remains relatively high at 0.4 to 0.5 calories per pound of body weight per hour while sleeping, despite the decrease in activity levels.
By understanding your body's natural calorie burning processes during the night, it's possible to learn how to lose weight while sleeping.
To get an idea of just how much weight reduction is possible while asleep, consider that the average 150 pound person on an appropriate diet with enough sleep (seven to eight hours per night) can expect to lose one pound of weight per week due solely to sleeping!
But keep in mind that total weight loss attained during sleep varies according to body weight and the amount of time spent sleeping. Moreover, loss of weight only occurs when your daily caloric intake doesn't exceed the BMR.
The Importance of Muscle Mass
Our muscles demand more energy than either our fat or bones to function properly and that's why people with greater muscle mass usually have a higher BMR.
This means you can burn more calories each day and through the night simply by building more muscle mass to increase your basal metabolism.
But no amount of muscle building to enhance the BMR will work effectively in a sleep-deprived state. Since muscle builds and repairs primarily during sleep, you must get enough sleep if you expect to see results.
Where Did Those Pounds Go in the Morning?
The Water Weight Factor
Life-giving and rejuvenating, drinking plenty of water is an important part of a healthy lifestyle. But it's also a quick way to pack on extra pounds. Consider for a moment that two liters of water weigh one pound. This means that downing a bottle of your favorite soda doesn't just cause you to gain weight from the calories, but also from the water content itself. Fortunately, it's much easier to eliminate the water from your body than the syrupy stuff.
Now, one of the ways we lose water weight is through natural processes during sleep via respiration and perspiration.
By morning, your weight has usually dropped by about one pound simply due to breathing and sweating normally throughout the night.
Add to this a trip to the restroom before your morning weigh-in, and you'll likely weigh two pounds less than you did before climbing into bed the night before!
The Breath of Life… and Weight Loss
The food we eat and the fat stores we burn are used for a variety of growth and repair processes in the body, generally referred to as metabolism, which we touched on earlier.
Although quite spectacular in its functioning, the body isn't a perfectly efficient machine and metabolic processes lead to the generation and release of many metabolic waste products.
While the kidneys, liver, and digestive tract handle much of this metabolic waste, a fraction gets released during exhalation in the form of carbon dioxide (somewhat analogous to smoke and ash released from the body's metabolic fires).
Over the course of a night, enough carbon dioxide gets released with the air you exhale to contribute to the natural process of losing weight during sleep.
Why Getting a Good Night's Sleep Will Help You Lose Weight
The Adverse Effects of Sleep Deprivation
One of the many ways sleep impacts health is through its effects on appetite and metabolism. This really comes into play during the part of the sleep cycle where the BMR is highest — the Rapid Eye Movement stage (REM).
Since REM is only attained later into the evening, a full night of sleep is necessary to lose weight. When you deprive your body of sleep, the total number of calories burned throughout the night diminishes.
Moreover, sleep deprivation also affects the body's natural hormonal balance. Getting less than seven hours of sleep per night leads to an increase in the body's primary stress hormone, cortisol. This causes a cascade of effects, including increased cravings for high-fat and high-sugar snacks.
Another player in the hormonal cascade triggered by sleep deprivation is ghrelin, the hunger hormone. Normally, ghrelin levels are counterbalanced by leptin, the hormone that helps you feel full. Sleep deprivation tips the balance of these hormones in favor of ghrelin, requiring you to eat a larger quantity of food to feel satiated.
Now, when you have increased levels of ghrelin on top of elevated cortisol, not only do you crave unhealthy snacks, you experience more hunger in general.
Thus, it should come as no surprise to learn that sleep-deprived individuals eat an average of 300 calories more per day than those who are well rested, according to the The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Unless the cycle of poor sleep is broken, sleep deprivation can lead to an additional 30-pound weight gain per year!
In short, when you pair insufficient sleep with an increased intake of generally poor-quality calories, you end up with an ideal recipe for unwanted weight gain.
The Benefits of Going to Bed Earlier
Keep in mind one basic component of the weight gain/loss equation: weight gain requires food intake, something which obviously only happens while we're awake. Just by spending an extra hour or two awake each day, we're more likely to have another snack or two to boost our energy levels, especially when tired. So, you never know, those extra waking hours may be all that's keeping those pounds on when they'd otherwise melt away during sleep.
Simply going to bed earlier helps reduce excess body weight because you'd have less time to snack.
Moreover, going to bed earlier may also lessen insomnia and associated weight gain. One reason to account for this is that sleeping earlier more closely correlates your sleep-wake cycle to the pattern of daylight, an important regulator of the body's circadian rhythms.
The Balance of Energy Intake and Output
Also important to the calorie burning equation is the amount of physical exertion we perform each day. Even though we're more likely to burn calories during the daytime because we're more active, sleep deprivation can completely derail such good intentions.
For example, how often have you planned to hit the gym or go for a run only to stay home because you didn't sleep well the previous night? How likely are you to choose the stairs over the elevator after tossing and turning all evening?
Enhancing the quality and quantity of sleep not only helps burn more calories at night, it also makes you more likely to meet your weight goals through increased energy output during the day.
The Value of Timing Your Sleep Cycle
For optimal health, adults should aim for seven to eight hours of quality sleep per night. One of the ways that affects sleep quality is both the time spent in each sleep cycle and the rate of completion.
Now, each sleep cycle, from light sleep through deep sleep to REM sleep and back, lasts about 90 minutes. For optimal sleep quality, it's best to awaken at the end of a completed cycle, rather than be interrupted somewhere in the middle.
Thus, to awaken at the end of a completed sleep cycle, it's important to plan your bedtime accordingly.
For example, five sleep cycles require 7.5 hours of sleep, which perfectly corresponds to both the ideal length of sleep per night AND the ability to complete full sleep cycles.
So, all you have to do is count back 7.5 hours from the time you need to wake up and be ready to sleep by that time. As a reminder, you can set your alarm to go off every night at the scheduled time, just like how you use it in the morning.
Note: As mentioned, you can also go to bed earlier to help keep you from snacking, just make sure to factor in the sleep cycle!
The Advantages of Sleep-Friendly Supplements
Aside from maintaining a strict sleep schedule to enhance the quality of your sleep and thus promote weight reduction, you may also find a variety of dietary supplements helpful.
While some supplements specifically aid sleep, certain vitamins and minerals offer a wide range of extra perks. For example, calcium and magnesium are two minerals that provide a range of health benefits, including improved sleep. As both are often deficient in the typical diet, calcium and magnesium supplementation may be a great boost to your overall health.
You may also want to consider trying some herbal remedies known to enhance sleep quality such as valerian root, chamomile, and passionflower. Moreover, drinking a bedtime tea made from these herbs may also help ease any anxiety or insomnia that could be keeping you from getting a restful night of sleep.
Thus, consider taking natural dietary supplements to enhance the quality of your sleep but not without consulting your physician first.
The Problem of Nighttime Heartburn
The quality of your sleep can also be affected by waking up periodically throughout the night without you even knowing it. Oftentimes, this is due to heartburn, a symptom of acid reflux particularly common in people with sleep apnea. Thus, even if you don't experience the pain of heartburn when lying down to sleep, you still may unknowingly be awakened by the irritation of stomach acid creeping up into your esophagus.
To find out if heartburn may be disturbing your sleep, you can try taking an antacid 30 minutes before bedtime for seven days to see if you notice any change in the quality of your sleep.
Now that you better understand the crucial role sleep plays in losing weight, let's see how you can maximize this while sleeping...
How To Lose Weight While Sleeping
Step 1: Change Your Diet
Before we tackle what you should eat to increase your chances of reducing weight during sleep, let's first start with another important part of the equation — fasting (cue the groans).
As you'd expect, abstaining from food for a certain length of time can have a great impact on your waistline. Simply limiting food intake to an eight-hour window of time (with the remaining 16 hours of the day set aside for fasting) has more effect on attaining a healthy body weight than the total number of calories consumed per day!
That said, daily mini-fasts can be challenging if you've never done them before. To help you better cope with hunger cravings, you might try using hunger-suppressing scents like mint, banana, green apple, and vanilla in the form of candles or essential oils on your pillow.
Eat Less at Night and More During the Day
While it's still unclear whether calories consumed in the evening are more likely to pack on the pounds than during the day, eating less at night remains sound advice. For the most part, this has to do with the type of calories consumed in the evening, which are more based on the pleasure of snacking than satisfying hunger.
Apart from supporting smarter food choices and not exceeding your daily calorie count (a daily average of 2700 calories for men and 2200 calories for women), eating earlier in the day and less at night also helps prevent indigestion from interfering with a good night of sleep. Moreover, overnight digestion stimulates the release of growth hormones, which helps enhance the storage of calories as fat.
That said, if you're longing for a small bite before bedtime, a protein-rich dairy snack is a safe bet. First, it's not likely to cause indigestion AND it helps build BMR-boosting muscle mass. In particular, concentrate on dairy products like milk or Greek yogurt as they contain casein, a slow-burning source of protein that helps build muscle. A dose of casein eaten right before bedtime ensures you have muscle-building protein during the time your body can use it most effectively.
Thus, to improve your quality of sleep and increase nighttime loss of weight, stick to a light evening meal and an optional muscle-supporting snack containing 30 grams of protein before a 16-hour daily fast.
Focus on Sleep-Enhancing Foods
To improve your capacity for decreasing weight during nighttime, your light evening meal should be rich in sleep-enhancing foods. Among the most important as already noted is protein, a macronutrient that makes you feel satiated longer and thus the perfect food source to help get you through your daily fast and sleep soundly through the night. A few high-protein foods to add to your diet on a regular basis include:
- Chicken Breast
Additionally, foods rich in the amino acid tryptophan should also be a regular part of your diet. Known as a precursor to the sleep-inducing hormone serotonin (which then produces melatonin in the body), tryptophan can help prepare you for a restful night of sleep by putting you in a relaxed and sleepy state. Some foods high in tryptophan include:
Avoid Sleep-Disrupting Foods
Alcohol – Despite its pervasiveness, a nightcap won't help you get more restful sleep. People who have a serving of alcohol right before bedtime tend to have fragmented dreams with longer periods of light sleep and overall poorer sleep quality.
Instead of alcohol, reach for an evening cup of chamomile, lavender, lemongrass, passionflower, peppermint, rosebud or valerian root tea to help prepare you for a restful night of sleep. But if you want to enjoy the health-enhancing benefits of a daily glass of red wine, make sure to get in your daily serving at least two hours before bedtime.
Caffeine – Coffee, black tea, and soda are some of the most common sources of caffeine but keep in mind that chocolate and green tea also contain enough to disrupt sleep. Case in point, an average two-ounce, 70 percent dark chocolate bar, while a great low-sugar treat, can have as much caffeine as a half a cup of coffee. To be on the safe side, refrain from any stimulants for at least two hours before bedtime.
Salt – To avoid putting excess strain on your kidneys and prevent the nighttime water loss that would normally keep you from looking puffy and feeling bloated in the morning, make sure to reduce your salt intake at your evening meal.
Spicy and Citrus Foods – To keep sleep-disrupting indigestion at bay, it's best to avoid spicy foods (such as many Indian and Thai dishes) and citrus fruits like lemons, oranges, and grapefruits.
Sugar – Stay away from sugary desserts, especially during the evening as excess sugar stimulates insulin release, the hormone responsible for driving fat storage. Combat sugar cravings by having cherries, kiwis or bananas after your meals instead. All these fruits provide the sweet taste you crave along with a hearty dose of melatonin, the hormone needed for improved sleep quality.
Step 2: Workout and/or Exercise Regularly
Exercise is a well-known way to boost metabolism but did you know you can keep those metabolic fires going long after you finish working out? Certain workout and training routines like sprint intervals, aerobic exercise, and weight lifting continue to pay off while you're asleep, helping to burn even more calories than you normally would in the course of the night.
That said, make sure to do your workouts only during the day. Exercise is stimulating to both the mind and body and can thus interfere with restful sleep unless it's completed at least four hours before bedtime. The only exercise that may be appropriate just before sleeping is yoga, due to its relaxing effects.
Step 3: Improve Your Quality of Sleep
Set Up an Environment Conducive to Sleep
Keep your bedroom temperature cool – For a better night of sleep, make sure to turn down the temperature in your bedroom to around 60-67 degrees Fahrenheit. For one thing, a cooler room improves your sleep quality as more melatonin gets released throughout the night. Also, it can stimulate the body to burn excess fat for heat production and thus great for losing those pounds.
Sleep in a pitch-black room – To maximize the natural production of the sleep-enhancing hormone melatonin, keep your sleep space as dark as possible. Also, consider dimming the lights throughout your home as the evening sun sets. This way, your body naturally begins to produce more melatonin before climbing into bed.
Put away electronic devices – Avoid using smartphones, tablets, and TVs just before bedtime as the blue light emitted from these electronic devices can interfere with the release of melatonin and disrupt REM sleep. These devices may also produce “dirty electricity” which creates electrical fields that surround you and keep you awake.
Invest in a comfortable pillow and mattress – Restful sleep is difficult if you can't get comfortable in bed. Thus, make sure to find bed materials best suited to you.
Calm the Body
No matter how rushed or demanding the day can become, be sure your bedtime routine includes a calming activity before sleeping. Spend 30 minutes every night doing something you find relaxing, such as reading, light stretching or listening to soothing music, to help ease your way into a relaxed state of mind and body before sleeping.
Get a Full Night of Restful Sleep
Did you know that sleeping less than 6.5 hours per night links to higher body fat? In fact, at least one study has shown that dieters who get 8.5 hours of sleep per night lose more fat than those who live on 5.5 hours per night, despite cutting the same number of calories!
Thus, reaching your weight goals may be as simple as getting the standard seven to eight hours of sleep per night as recommended by doctors and scientists. That said, we actually suggest 7.5 hours to ensure you complete a full sleep cycle as described earlier.
Moreover, by keeping to a strict bed and wake up time every day (including weekends), your body and mind will start associating that fixed timeframe with sleep, which can help curb insomnia. If you tend to lose track of time, set your alarm to remind you when it's time for bed!
Sleep Hypnosis Session for Losing Weight
Consider Taking Sleep-Inducing Supplements
Perhaps you've taken all the right steps to improve your quality of sleep but still have trouble falling asleep and staying asleep throughout the night. One of the major causes of insomnia and other sleep disorders like restless leg syndrome is magnesium deficiency. A high-quality magnesium supplement may be all you need to overcome your sleeplessness.
Also previously mentioned and equally important is melatonin, the sleep-inducing hormone produced and used by the body to help control the 'internal clocks' that govern the sleep-wake cycle. Melatonin levels naturally drop with age and can be disrupted by poor sleep hygiene habits (like the overuse of electronic devices before bedtime). A reputable melatonin supplement can help break the cycle of insomnia and is generally considered safe for short-term use. That said, it's always good practice to consult your doctor first before taking any sleep supplements.
Key Action Steps
Resources & Further Reading
- BodyBuilding.com: Calorie Know-How: Get the Equation Right to Get Results!
- BreakingMuscle.com: How Sleep Deprivation Fries Your Hormones, Your Immune System, and Your Brain
- Byrdie.com: Lose Weight by Doing This One Thing Before Bed
- CNN.com: Can You Lose Weight While Sleeping?
- CureJoy.com: 3 Things You Should Do at Night to Keep Your Weight in Check
- DailyBurn.com: The Hidden Ways Sleep Deprivation Can Lead to Weight Gain
- DoctorOz.com: 4-Step Plan to Lose Weight While You Sleep
- EatThis: 20 Surprising Ways to Lose Weight in Your Sleep
- FitnessMagazine.com: Supercharge Your Metabolism!
- Forbes.com: Change Your Sleep Schedule To Lose Weight, Study Shows
- Glamour.com: Sleep: 8 Reasons an Early Bedtime is Better For Your Health
- Healthline.com: How Does Seven to Eight Hours of Sleep Affect Your Body?
- Healthline.com: How Magnesium Can Help You Sleep
- HowStuffWorks.com: Why Do I Lose Weight While I Sleep?
- Livestrong.com: Why Do You Lose Weight After a Night's Sleep?
- NPR.org: Every Night You Lose More Than a Pound While You're Asleep (For the Oddest Reason)
- NYPost.com: How to Lose Weight While You Sleep
- Plos.org: Seven to Eight Hours of Sleep a Night is Associated with a Lower Prevalence of the Metabolic
- ReadersDigest.com: 9 Ways You Can Literally Lose Weight in Your Sleep
- ScientificAmerican.com: Strange But True: Less Sleep Means More Dreams
- Sharecare.com: Why Do I Lose Weight While I Sleep?
- Shape.com: The No. 1 Way to Keep Metabolism Soaring Post-Workout
- SleepFoundation.org: Melatonin and Sleep
- WebMD.com: Diet Truth or Myth: Eating at Night Causes Weight Gain
- Wikipedia.org: Fluid Balance
- Yahoo.com: 8 Ways to Lose Weight While You Sleep
- ZeeNews: This is How You Can Lose Weight While Sleeping
Now Over to You!
What are your thoughts about sleep and weight loss? Leave your comments below!