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5 Reasons Why You Need Sleep to Burn Fat


calendar-iconDecember 27, 2018

Foundational Sleep Series


In our last post, we reviewed how important sleep is to muscle growth, and how the lack thereof can bring muscle growth to halt. In this post, we’ll show you just how important sleep can be if fat loss is your primary goal.

Just like with muscle growth, research has shown that getting enough sleep is paramount if you want to burn fat.

1. More sleep, more fat loss

Sleep restriction results in an insulin-resistant state in human adipocytes. Sleep may be an important regulator of energy metabolism in peripheral tissues.

Broussard et al.

Studies show that sleep deprivation results in higher insulin resistance.1-4  When insulin resistance goes up, you are less able to burn fat. Plain and simple, when all other variables remain the same, those who get more sleep lose more fat!

2. Sleep keeps off belly fat

Evidence shows that short sleep duration is associated with preferential increases in abdominal adiposity in adults.

Chaput et al.

Hoping to cut down that belly fat and achieve that shredded 6-pack you've always wanted? Prioritizing sleep may be your best bet! Sleep deprived individuals have an increased tendency to store fat, especially in their abdomen.5-8  In other words, get more sleep, do fewer crunches, and you'll get better abs – is there a sweeter deal than that? 

3. Sleep helps you burn more energy

Energy intake was significantly increased by 385 kcal following partial sleep deprivation when compared with the control condition.

Khatib et al.

If you've read our foundational nutrition series post on energy balance, you know weight loss all boils down to one thing: expending more energy than you take in. So when you're attempting to lose fat, the more energy you can burn, the better! Individuals who sleep more tend to burn more energy through movement and exercise, leading to greater fat loss.11-13 So by sleeping more, you're automatically one step closer to shredding and slimming.

4. Sleep leads to healthier food choices

Findings provide an explanatory brain mechanism by which insufficient sleep may lead to the development/maintenance of obesity through diminished activity in higher-order cortical evaluation regions, combined with excess subcortical limbic responsivity, resulting in the selection of foods most capable of triggering weight-gain.

Greer, Goldstein, & Walker

When trying to slim down, its often not just about eating less food, but also eating the right foods. Studies show sleep deprivation is directly correlated to increased consumption of foods with higher energy density, leading to excessive caloric intake and weight gain.11-13 Without proper rest, those junk food cravings become stronger than ever and more difficult to resist. Why make it harder to keep to your nutritional plan? Hit the hay, and kick those cravings to the curb!

5. Replace hunger with more sleep

Sleep restriction results in metabolic and endocrine alterations, including decreased glucose tolerance, decreased insulin sensitivity, increased evening concentrations of cortisol, increased levels of ghrelin, decreased levels of leptin and increased hunger and appetite.

Leproult & Cauter

Sleep deprivation causes a decreased production of leptin ("the fullness hormone") and an increase of ghrelin production ("the hunger hormone").14-16 This translates feeling more hungry more often, increased consumption, and weight gain. Hunger is one of the biggest enemies of sticking to a nutrition plan. If you feel as if those hunger pangs are getting to you, try supplementing your diet with more sleep! The more sleep you get, the less susceptible you will be to increased hunger.

The Takeaway

When it comes to fat loss, sleep can be one of your greatest allies. Studies show that sleep is vital for:

  1. Allowing your body to burn more fat
  2. Keeping off belly fat
  3. Burning more energy (and therefore, losing more weight)
  4. Curbing cravings that lead to unwanted weight gain
  5. Staving off hunger

In our next post, we’ll review the structure of sleep, and how each stage is critical to optimal muscle growth and fat loss!


  1. Broussard JL, Ehrmann DA, Van cauter E, Tasali E, Brady MJ. Impaired insulin signaling in human adipocytes after experimental sleep restriction: a randomized, crossover study. Ann Intern Med. 2012;157(8):549-57. Link
  2. Nedeltcheva AV, Kilkus JM, Imperial J, Schoeller DA, Penev PD. Insufficient sleep undermines dietary efforts to reduce adiposity. Ann Intern Med. 2010;153(7):435-41. Link
  3. St-onge MP, Shechter A. Sleep disturbances, body fat distribution, food intake and/or energy expenditure: pathophysiological aspects. Horm Mol Biol Clin Investig. 2014;17(1):29-37 Link
  4. Wang X, Sparks JR, Bowyer KP, Youngstedt SD. Influence of sleep restriction on weight loss outcomes associated with caloric restriction. Sleep. 2018;41(5) Link
  5. Chaput JP, Després JP, Bouchard C, Tremblay A. Longer sleep duration associates with lower adiposity gain in adult short sleepers. Int J Obes (Lond). 2012;36:752–6. Link
  6. Chaput JP, Després JP, Bouchard C, Tremblay A. Short sleep duration preferentially increases abdominal adiposity in adults: preliminary evidence. Clin Obes. 2011;1(4-6):141-6. Link
  7. Gangwisch JE, Malaspina D, Boden-albala B, Heymsfield SB. Inadequate sleep as a risk factor for obesity: analyses of the NHANES I. Sleep. 2005;28(10):1289-96. Link
  8. Beccuti G, Pannain S. Sleep and obesity. Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care. 2011;14(4):402-12. Link
  9. Al khatib HK, Harding SV, Darzi J, Pot GK. The effects of partial sleep deprivation on energy balance: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2017;71(5):614-624. Link
  10. Nedeltcheva AV, Kilkus JM, Imperial J, Kasza K, Schoeller DA, Penev PD. Sleep curtailment is accompanied by increased intake of calories from snacks. Am J Clin Nutr. 2009;89(1):126-33 Link
  11. Markwald RR, Melanson EL, Smith MR, et al. Impact of insufficient sleep on total daily energy expenditure, food intake, and weight gain. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA. 2013;110(14):5695-700. Link
  12. Greer SM, Goldstein AN, Walker MP. The impact of sleep deprivation on food desire in the human brain. Nat Commun. 2013;4:2259. Link
  13. Hanlon EC, Tasali E, Leproult R, et al. Sleep Restriction Enhances the Daily Rhythm of Circulating Levels of Endocannabinoid 2-Arachidonoylglycerol. Sleep. 2016;39(3):653-64. Link
  14. Chaput, JP. & Tremblay, A. Curr Obes Rep (2012) 1: 245. Link
  15. Institute of Medicine (IOM) Committee on Sleep Medicine and Research, Colten HR and Altevogt BM (ed.), Sleep Disorders and Sleep Deprivation: An Unmet Public Health Problem, Washington, DC: National Academy of Sciences,2006. Link
  16. Leproult R, Van cauter E. Role of sleep and sleep loss in hormonal release and metabolism. Endocr Dev. 2010;17:11-21 Link
Date Created: December 27, 2018

Last Updated: April 2, 2020

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