If you're still a few pounds shy of your goal weight, consider this: You simply may not be getting enough sleep to achieve the silhouette you're aiming for.

Too many people skimp on rest, and their waistlines reveal it. Diet and exercise do make a difference, of course, but for many folks the missing part of the weight-loss puzzle is adequate sleep. Studies show that there is a direct link between how little people sleep and how much they weigh. At the beginning of The Nurses' Health Study, a vast national effort that followed many thousands of women, the subjects were all healthy and at a normal weight. After 16 years, researchers discovered that women who slept no more than five hours a night were 15 percent more likely to be obese than women who managed seven hours per night. Also, women who gave sleep a short shrift were 30 percent more likely to have gained 30 pounds over the course of the study.

A smaller study conducted at Northwestern University highlighted the problems of not just sleeping enough but of being on a later-than-normal sleep schedule. Fifty-one subjects were recruited, 23 of whom were considered late sleepers. The late sleepers averaged a 3:45a.m. bedtime and a 10:45a.m. wakeup time, while the control sleepers went to bed, on average, at 12:30a.m. and were up at 8 a.m. While the total sleep hours averaged by both groups different only by 30 minutes, the researchers discovered that the night owls consumed almost 250 calories more per day than the control group. They tended to go heavier on the soda and lighter on fruits and vegetables, consuming much of their calorie load in the evening hours. Not surprisingly, they had a higher body mass index than the normal sleepers.

Editors at Glamour magazine, intrigued by the sleep-weight connection, enlisted a couple of sleep doctors to create customized plans for seven readers of different weights. The one constant in the plans was that each woman had to aim for seven and a half hours of sleep each night without changing anything about her diet and exercise habits. At the end of 10 weeks, the readers had lost anywhere from six to 15 pounds.

Scientists feel that there are several possible explanations for sleep deprivation's effect on food intake and weight:

  • People who skimp on sleep simply have more waking hours in which to eat.
  • Available late-night fare is often unhealthy.
  • Sleep deprivation disrupts hormones that control appetite.
  • Sleepy people are simply too tired to exercise.




Northwestern University. "Night Owls at Risk for Weight Gain." Web. 4 May 2011. www.northwestern.edu/newscenter/stories/2011/05/night-owls-weight-gain.ntml

Harvard School of Public Health. "Sleep Deprivation and Obesity." Web. www.hsps.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/healthy-weight/sleep/index.html

Glamour Magazine. "Lose Weight While You Sleep!" Web. http://www.glamour.com/magazine/2009/02/lose-weight-while-you-sleep