A new study suggests that your secret weapon for weight loss may be sleep! Researchers put 10 overweight participants on a moderately low calorie diet and then let them sleep up to either 8.5 hours or 5.5 hours for two weeks. They then switched participants to the other sleep group for another two weeks. They measured weight and body composition (fat vs. muscle) after each two period.  

Here's what they found:

  • More Sleep, More Fat Loss. When people got more sleep, they lost more of their weight as fat (3 pounds vs. 1.3 pounds) and less of their weight as muscle (3 pounds vs. 5 pounds).
  • Less Sleep, Higher Hunger. When people got less sleep, they were hungrier. Their levels of a hormone called ghrelin were higher than when they were allowed to sleep longer. Ghrelin is a hormone in the stomach that makes you hungry.

Keep in mind this was a very small study - only ten people - so the findings are far from conclusive. But this adds to other research that shows that sleep can help people stay at a healthy weight and avoid chronic diseases.

So here are some tips to get the best sleep:

  • Stay Calm Before Sleep: avoid caffeine, alcohol, troubling reading, and over stimulating, violent TV at bedtime
  • Avoid Energizing Activities Before Bed: avoid exercise and bright lights around bedtime; try dim lights, meditative thoughts, and warm milk (yuck!). A warm bath right before bed can help with sleep.
  • Set the Stage: make sure your bedroom has curtains that are heavy and keep your room dark

Beth Kitchin MS RD
Assistant Professor, Department of Nutrition Sciences
University of Alabama at Birmingham

Source:   Nedeltcheva AV et al. Insufficient sleep undermines dietary efforts to reduce adiposity. Ann Intern Med. 2010;153:435-441.