Is a Lack of Sleep Making You Gain Weight?

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A lack of sleep could be causing weight gain 

If you’re serious about getting in shape, you better have a bedtime. A lack of sleep could be the most overlooked factor in terms of keeping the weight off.

As a personal trainer, I’m often asked about the secret to losing weight (and keeping it off). My answer is always the same:

“Eat 1-2 palms of protein at every meal, train 4 days a week, and make sure to be in bed before 11 pm.”

People look at me like I just asked them for their bank account number. I mean, their face says it all. That’s it? Sure there are certainly more advanced strategies out there, but if you’re not doing these basic things, it doesn’t really matter if you carb cycle or not. And you can’t get more basic than talking about sleep.

While getting enough sleep isn’t the sexiest advice out there, being a father of two I can attest to just how bad a rough night can cost you. I once tried to squat after a couple of nights of getting about four hours of sleep and thought my spine was going to snap. It’s not a fun feeling, especially for someone who uses their training session to set the tone for the day.

See, training is all about controlling your hormones. Hormones are chemical messengers that tell the body to do things: like “burn fat” and “build muscle.” You have stress hormones like cortisol and repair hormones such as growth hormone. Both are needed at different times but sleep helps restore the balance between the two. If your body keeps cortisol too high-which can happen when you get piss poor sleep-it can affect your body’s ability to build proteins. It can also cause issues with how you store food as well, so what you eat ends up getting stored as fat.

A meta-analysis shows the importance of a good night’s rest. Researchers classified less than 5 hours of sleep as a big no-no, and they also found that losing one hour of sleep, per day, slowly raises your BMI (1). Over time, this can add 3-4 pounds of bodyfat – just from sleeping less! Another analysis on sleep showed that people who slept less than 6 hours a night over the course of four years had higher levels of obesity(2).

The other issue is that a lack of sleep clouds your judgement. It’s pretty easy to live off of chicken breast and rice when you get 10 hours of sleep a night. But chop that rest in half and you’ll see that your diet is a nice mix of energy drinks, candy, and other treasures found in a vending machine. Not exactly the breakfast of champions.

So this viscous cycle looks like this:

  1. Start missing out on sleep
  2. Hormones start to get messed up/feel lethargic
  3. Try to find stimulation through bad foods/constantly stressed out
  4. Our sleep cycle gets messed up
  5. Repeat steps 1-4

What you can do now….

While a strict list of good sleep tips helps, I’ll say this: give yourself a bedtime. Our bodies like consistent patterns. Having a bedtime every night is a great starting point. This can help reset your circadian rhythm so it just becomes more natural to go to bed earlier.

Don’t make things overwhelming. If you’re going to bed at midnight, don’t turn the lights off at 9pm the next day. Shave off ten minutes every two days. After you do that – stating getting up at the same time. Even if it’s a weekend. I know, I know it sounds like a major bummer. But it works. Do you want to stay up late and watch TV or do you want to get in shape?

Start fixing that lack of sleep and you’ll start to see the changes in your energy levels – and physique.



  1. Cappuccio, F.P, et al. “Meta-Analysis of Short Sleep Duraton and Obesity in Children and Adults.”(2008) SLEEP Vol 31, 5.
  2. Mozaffarian, D. Hao, T., et al. “Changes in Diet and Lifestyle and Long Term Weight Gain in Women and Men.” (2011) New England Journal of Medicine 364.25, 2392-2404
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