The Critical Importance of the Connection Between Sleep and Weight Loss

These paratroopers have worked through the night to prepare for an early morning combat equipment jump. Their preparations complete, they are catching some much deserved sleep to ensure they are mentally alert for the joint forcable entry, with a follow on movement to secure key terrain in a few hours. (U.S. Army/Lt. Col. John Hall)

In modern society, sleep time and quality are inconsistent at best and are typically a leading cause of mismanaged stress mitigation.

Yet, the No. 1 recovery tool for humans could also be the No. 1 tool to fight weight gain and assist with weight loss. Sleep and weight-loss studies show nearly double the number of calories burned if a subject slept eight hours a night, compared to 5.5 hours per night.

Getting either enough or quality sleep can seem impossible to many, but building better sleeping habits is critical to our recovery and longevity. Increasing the amount (and quality) of sleep can pay off in more ways than one.

Individuals who sleep more tend to eat less, reducing their daily caloric intake by an average of 270 calories. This daily occurrence can lead to significant weight loss over time.

Beyond the basic science, there is also a hormonal reason why sleep is a crucial aspect of maintaining a healthy weight. Lack of sleep raises levels of the appetite-increasing hormone ghrelin while sabotaging the satisfaction hormone leptin. Getting more sleep could help balance these hormones and prevent weight gain.

More sleep may also be the very thing that helps with the common issue of "stress eating" and midnight snacks. This lack of sleep can be linked to some pretty serious chronic diseases such as high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes and obesity, to name a few.

There's a personal observation that inspired this article: A veteran friend of mine, now in his 50s, recently lost more than 60 pounds in a year by fixing his sleep. He had a good amount of sleep scheduled in the seven to eight hours each night, but his sleep quality was literally killing him.

Apparently, due to sleep apnea, he was "waking up" more than 100 times per night. Sleep apnea is a condition where your breathing stops and starts throughout the night, causing you to wake up constantly. You may not even be aware of how many times you wake up; it could be up to 70-100 times per hour.

That means you are not getting sufficient sleep, even though the clock tells you differently. This was affecting his health and well-being. Not only was he overweight a year ago, but he was pre-diabetic and had high blood pressure, with cholesterol and triglycerides all surpassing the healthy range.

It's important to talk to your doctor if you think you may have sleep apnea so you can get the right treatment and start getting quality sleep. Now, that same veteran is talking about exercising and getting fit again after more than a decade of missing sleep and workouts.

Did you know that over one-third of Americans don't sleep the recommended 7-9 hours each night? Sleep is just as important as exercise, nutritious eating, stress reduction, social connection and avoiding risky substances for healthy living.

If you are not getting enough quality sleep, it can lead to fatigue, cognitive impairment and lower productivity. Plus, you are twice as likely to skip your workout on days when your sleep is impaired. So if you're trying to shed some pounds, aim for continuous sleep of 7-8 hours each night.

This will not only make you feel empowered and energized but also encourage regular physical activity and healthy choices throughout the day.

Sleeping better or at the recommended number of hours is easy to talk about, but difficult to do if you do not set the stage properly for a good night's sleep. The brain rests better when away from stimulation from screens.

Stay away from the TV, computer and phone for an hour prior to sleeping, if possible. Read a book instead or just close your eyes and breathe. If you are a parent, you know the drill you have with your baby or toddler. Do the same.

Take a shower or bath and put on sleeping clothes. Set the room as a cool, dark and quiet space. If that is difficult due to your situation, consider earplugs and an eye mask to get yourself started. Mine tend to fall out of my ears and off my face by morning, but the getting-to-sleep process can be accomplished much quicker.

In short, don't overlook the power of sleep on your weight-loss journey. Insufficient sleep can lead to poor diet choices, increased hunger and, ultimately, weight gain. Prioritize your sleep and watch the pounds fall off. Check out these additional articles on sleep recovery and helpful tools to get you to sleep faster and better:

Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness author certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Visit his Fitness eBook store if you're looking to start a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle. Send your fitness questions to

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