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6 Ways Lack Of Sleep Sabotages Your Weight Loss Goals

Do you have a weight loss goal that is extremely important to you?

If so, imagine working your butt off doing absolutely everything that you can think of to meet this weight loss goal. You’re watching what you eat, skipping out on the fast food and sweets (your favorite) and exercising pretty much every single day.

But no matter what you do, you still struggle to see any real progress on the scale, despite seemingly doing everything right.

How frustrating! Have you ever experienced this?

One of the things people often overlook when their weight loss progress comes to a screeching halt, is the effects of lack of sleep on our ability to form new health and fitness habits.

Today we’ll talk about how a chronic lack of sleep and poor sleep quality can have very real and extremely detrimental effects on your ability to achieve your weight loss goals. 

So read on to learn how to avoid sabotaging yourself when it comes to your goals. Oh, and don’t forget to check out the awesome infographic!

How Much Sleep Do Adults Need?

The purpose of sleep is to give the body time to do any necessary repair and maintenance as well as to process things that happened throughout the day.

So how much sleep do people actually need to function properly?

It is recommended that adults get at least 7 to 9 hours of quality sleep each night. (That’s roughly 1/3rd of our life spent sleeping!)

When it comes to sleep, both sleep duration (amount of time spent sleeping) AND sleep quality are important. 

Sleeping too few hours and/or having poor sleep quality, are both considered a “lack of sleep”, or “sleep deprivation”.

The negative effects of lack of sleep seem to become even more serious when you get less than 6 hours of quality sleep per night.

How Common Is Sleep Deprivation?

According to the Centers For Disease Control (CDC):

“Insufficient sleep is a public health epidemic.”

The CDC reports the following sleep statistics for Americans:

  • 11% never get enough sleep.
  • 25% don’t get enough sleep half of the time.
  • 70% don’t get enough sleep at least once a month.

It is estimated that roughly 50 to 70 million Americans suffer from the effects of lack of sleep on a regular basis. And the bad news is that this seems to be only getting worse as time goes on.

INFOGRAPHIC: How lack of sleep sabotages your health & fitness goals.

6 Ways Lack Of Sleep Sabotages Your Weight Loss Goals

Even a single night of bad sleep can decrease mood, energy, and performance. If you are working your butt off to adopt new healthy habits, that is a big deal!

Check out the following 6 ways that lack of sleep can sabotage your weight loss goals.

1 – Lack Of Sleep Causes Fatigue

One of the first effects of lack of sleep that you’ll likely notice is fatigue.

When your eyelids feel like they weigh a thousand pounds each and you’d give your left arm to stay home in your cozy bed rather than do anything that requires even an ounce of effort… that’s fatigue.

Sounds familiar doesn’t it?

When it comes to weight loss, fatigue can lead to skipped workouts, more sedentary time, and the unwillingness to cook healthy meals.

For these reasons, fatigue can quickly derail your health and fitness goals.

2 – Lack Of Sleep Increases Appetite

Appetite, including hunger and satiety (feeling full), are controlled by hormones.

Normally, when your body needs food and nutrients, your stomach releases a hormone called Ghrelin. Ghrelin tells your brain that you are hungry and it’s time to eat.

Then, after you’ve eaten, your body uses a hormone called Leptin (among others) to tell your brain that you got the nutrients you needed, and can stop eating.

BUT lack of sleep throws this hormonal regulation of appetite all out of whack.

When you are sleep deprived your appetite increases, and it takes you longer to feel full. 

Because of this hormonal imbalance, you’re likely to consume more calories which can, of course, result in weight gain.

3 – Lack Of Sleep Makes You Crave High Calorie Foods

When you’re awake when you should be sleeping, do you find that you crave more junk food?

One of the effects of lack of sleep is that it activates the endocannabinoid system causing people to crave foods that are high in fat, sugar, and calories.

I know what you’re thinking. 

Endocannabinoid… That sounds like marijuana! 

And yes, you are correct. Using marijuana stimulates this same endocannabinoid system that it triggered by lack of sleep.

That might explain why stoners get the munchies and why medical marijuana is prescribed to cancer patients for weight gain.

4 – Lack Of Sleep Decreases Willpower

When trying to build new healthy habits like eating better or exercising more, willpower or self-control can be extremely helpful in sticking to your goals.

For example resisting that donut at your Monday morning work meeting when you are trying to cut down on added sugars takes a lot of willpower! 

Especially when the donuts are maple bars…. your favorite!

However, when you are lacking sleep, your willpower and decision making abilities go right out the window. 

This means that it is much harder to resist temptations like eating comfort foods, or lounging on the couch in front of the TV like a zombie instead of doing your workout.

In other words, lack of sleep makes it significantly harder to say no to high calorie junk food and yes to exercise.

[Related: Why You Should Not Rely On Willpower To Achieve Your Goals]

5 – Lack Of Sleep Slows Down Recovery

Exercise is a form of stress on the body. A good stress, but stress nonetheless. 

Under normal circumstances, a workout causes small amounts of damage to your muscles. 

When you get enough sleep, your body takes this time to repair the damage in a way that makes your muscles stronger than they were before. That is how muscles increase in strength so you can do more exercise over time.

But when you are sleep deprived, your body doesn’t have time to repair all of the muscle damage caused by your workout. 

This means that your muscles can stay sore or feel sluggish and fatigued for a longer period of time.

This muscle fatigue due to lack of sleep can lead to one of two things – neither of them good.

One, because your body doesn’t feel good, you may just opt to skip your workout. If this happens often, it will slow down your progress towards your weight loss goals.

And two, if you are chronically sleep deprived but manage to power through and exercise despite your body not being fully recovered, you can develop what is called overtraining. 

Overtraining is a very common cause of muscular injuries. And of course if you injure your muscles you will be forced to take time off of exercise, which will of course derail your weight loss goals.

6 – Lack Of Sleep Weakens Your Immune System

Finally, it is well known that chronic lack of sleep can weaken the immune system. As you likely know, your immune system is what helps your body fight off infections and prevents you from getting sick.

People that don’t get enough sleep on a regular basis typically get sick more often. And when people are sick they often skip workouts and eat comfort foods.

Conclusion

Not getting enough sleep can make it extremely difficult to stick to your health and fitness habits and achieve your weight loss goals..

Lack of sleep can sabotage your health and fitness goals by:

  1. Making you feel fatigued.
  2. Increasing appetite.
  3. Causing you to crave high calorie foods.
  4. Decreasing willpower.
  5. Slowing down recovery from exercise.
  6. Compromising the immune system.

Each and every one of these things can contribute to skipped workouts and poor nutrition choices that could derail your healthy habits.

To avoid sabotaging yourself, make getting 7 to 8 quality hours of sleep a night a priority!

Ready to improve your sleep habits? Check out my post: 20 Sleep Hygiene Tips To Boost Energy & Motivation Levels!

Share the knowledge!

Author: clarissa.cabbage

Clarissa is a teacher, a coach, and an avid adventurer! Armed with a master's degree in Exercise and Wellness, she is on a mission to teach people how to build healthier habits that support the adventurous lifestyle of their dreams. There is nothing Clarissa is more passionate about than helping people get active and live their lives to the fullest!

68 Replies to “6 Ways Lack Of Sleep Sabotages Your Weight Loss Goals

  1. OMG. I was just talking about this. I have sleep issues I should probably see someone about. There are weeks where I can only sleep 4-5 hours a night then some weeks where I sleep for 8-10 hours a night. I’ve tried to train myself multiple times but no luck yet. You are so right though, I do feel the curb in wanting to eat healthily or not having the energy to get active. Sleep is so so important! Thanks for sharing, I know a lot of people need this reminder x

    http://www.lynnmumbingmejia.com

    1. Thank you for reading Lynn, I’m glad you found this a useful reminder. It can’t hurt to talk to a doctor about it as many people do have real sleep issues. Unfortunately, I think a lot of doctors over prescribe sleeping medications. At least they used to. I think they’re getting better about prescribing more natural fixes. I hope you can get your sleep evened out a little better!!

  2. Great post! It’s amazing how many people wear lack of sleep as a badge of honour. There are so many important reasons why we need to wake up (excuse the pun) and accept that sleep is essential.

    I often find myself hit by all the above – and cravings especially – after only a short period of sub-par sleep. It’s really something to focus on in 2021. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Thank you Matt I am so glad that you enjoyed the post. I definitely agree about people wearing the lack of sleep as a badge of honor. Actually it’s kind of a pet peeve of mine. And yes you are absolutely correct we can feel the effects of lack of sleep only after a single night. The research shows that blood pressure is actually elevated after a single night of bad sleep. Just one bad night has measurable physiological effects. That blows my mind!

  3. Wow this was such a fascinating post. I didn’t realise how a lack of sleep can have such a detrimental impact on your body – I simply thought you were just tired! I definitely was not aware that it also increased your appetite. It just goes to show how much we need to value our sleep cause it can have a huge effect on our day to day lives.

    1. Yes there’s a lot more to it than just simply being tired. Actually chronic sleep deprivation has some extremely scary sounding health risks including increased risk of cardiovascular disease, dementia Alzheimer’s and more. Yikes!

  4. Sleep is often underestimated, but it’s so vital for your health! I can do with about 6 hours of sleep per night for a while, but being able to sleep a bit longer due to working from home made me realize how much better I feel with those extra 2 hours. Thanks for sharing this information.

    1. You’re very welcome Lisa I’m glad you found this helpful. Yes people are resilient and can cope with less sleep for a while but it does make such a big difference when you get more doesn’t it? I think a lot of people will be finding that going back to their commute is going to be rough. The cost and stress of driving in traffic plus the decrease in sleep is not something to look forward to!

  5. Oh my goodness to all of this!! Except for the fact that I sometimes get so tired I don’t even have the energy to eat! I have chronic fatigue syndrome and tend to need around 9 hours to be functional. But I also get insomnia so that doesn’t help! Right now I’m sleeping so well thankfully but I can definitely attest to all of these hindrances caused by lack of sleep.
    Looking forward to the sleep hygiene tips 😊

    1. Chronic fatigue syndrome is next level for sure, Ellie! I’ve always struggled with insomnia as well. After one or two nights of bad sleep I can really feel the decrease in performance. Especially in my memory which is a little bit scary. Thank you for sharing your experience and contributing to the conversation!

  6. I never made the connection between sleep and food! I have never had a good relationship with sleep. I always pass periods were I sleep badly and times where I manage to get more than 8 straight hours of undisturbed sleep. This was so helpful to read and can’t wait for sleep hygiene to come out and read x

    1. I’m so glad you found this helpful Cristina!
      I think a lot of people don’t realize the connection between sleep and food. or else they notice it but they don’t realize that it’s an actual physiological change in your body that makes you hungrier and crave junk. Sleep hygiene is coming soon so stay tuned!

  7. This is such an interesting and in-depth post, thanks for sharing! It’s amazing how much of an impact a lack of sleep can have.

  8. I always like to sleep well and totally agree that it is one of the key factors to wellbeing and health. Thank you for sharing it because a lot of people are in so rush that they are limiting sleep time and quality 🙁

  9. We know we need sleep but we often forget why and how important getting proper sleep is. Thanks for the data and the detail. Very interesting read and reminder.

    1. I’m glad you found the reminder helpful Mark! I agree that people know they need sleep but find that many people don’t have a good idea of what actually goes on in their body during sleep.

  10. I was talking about this with my husband as we’re both experiencing disrupted/lack of sleep. We’re trying to find things to help but stress is playing such a large part in life at the moment (nothing to do with Covid) that it’s hard at the moment. This post has been super helpful at reminding me to really try and get our sleep sorted. Thanks!

    1. I am sorry you and your husband are so stressed right now. That definitely makes sleeping very difficult! I’ve been out of work (usually a very physically demanding job) due to my injury/Covid-19 and been so pending a lot of time working from my home office. The difference it makes on my sleep quality is huge! I think many others must be experiencing this as well. Thanks for stopping by to read and I hope your stressful situation will pass soon!

  11. This is such an eye opening post! I knew lack of sleep could cause a lot of health issues and mess with our concentration and willpower. I had no idea it effected our appetite and caused us to crave high calorie foods! Thank you so much for sharing this Clarissa! I always learn so much from your posts.

    1. Aww thanks Tiffany! I’m glad I was able to share some new info with you. I think many people don’t know that lack of sleep actually changes your hormones which regulate a lot of your behaviors. So they just feel bad about lacking willpower/motivation when really there’s a lot more to it than that!

  12. Ok this post is definitely for me! I do not sleep enough and I know it is a crucial part to me trying to post weight! Sigh!

    In all honesty I do try to get enough sleep, but I wake up everyday so early. So what I do I stay in bed and just let my body rest. One culpirt to my lack of sleep is my thoughts. I think wayyyyyy too much. My mind tends to go a mile a minute.

    Thanks for sharing these amazing tips. I’m really trying to work on getting better, especially since I’m not getting older!

    1. Racing thoughts are a really common cause of disrupted sleep Rebekah. Stress has so many negative consequences on pretty much all aspects of our life, sleep included. I too sometimes have the racing thoughts. It’s a work in progress!

  13. Yes, yes, and yes! It is so important to sleep enough; our bodies and minds need to the energy and calm a good night’s rest offers. On nights when I do not get enough rest, I often wake up feeling snappish and cannot find the positive outlook to guide the day in the direction I seek.

    Granted, there are times when it is fine to stay up later than usual but only if you are getting the sleep you need on a night-by-night basis. 🙂
    Thanks for sharing! Love your handy infographic.

    1. Thank you Jaya I’m glad you enjoyed the infographic! Yes I agree it’s okay to stay up late sometimes, especially if you get good sleep most of the time. Everything in moderation, right? Or else there’s no room for fun! Thanks so much for taking the time to contribute to the convo!

  14. It is so important to have enough sleep! When you don’t, your body doesn’t function at its best. Also doesn’t give you any healthy options either. Sometimes, sleeping is hard but when you can fall asleep, it’s hard to get up! Need to break out of that cycle!

    Nancy ✨ mdrnminimalists.com

    1. Yes, I absolutely agree Nancy, lack of sleep can be a vicious cycle that’s hard to break out of! It can turn into a sorry of spiral as well. As I’ve gotten a bit older I’ve definitely noticed it gets harder and harder to get by on little sleep!

  15. To be honest, I needed this now more than ever! I decided to have some fitness goals as a part of my “healthy mind; healthy body personal journey” and sleeping late is one habit I have to change. This is so informational and helpful thank you so much for this, Clarissa! 😍 xx

    1. You are very welcome Elle! I am glad to hear it’s what you needed right now. People often devote a lot of time to nutrition and exercise with a new goal (which is great!) But the importance of sleep often gets overlooked. Best of luck with your journey!

  16. Ahh. Sleep. The elusive dream. I do all the right things, have good sleep hygiene and never seem to get more than an average of 6 hours a night. I function well so I have come to the conclusion that must be all I need. If I go to bed earlier trying to get more than 6 hours, I just end up waking up at 4 a.m.

    1. Everyone is different, and 7-8 hours is an average which of course means some people need less than that and some need more. It sounds like if you function well you may be on the low end, which to be honest, might be a blessing! I’d love to have two extra hours each day. Use it wisely! 😁

  17. Always been a good sleeper… until my children came along and often would be surviving of less than 7 hours sleep.

    When eldest came I would skip workouts and sleep in. Then when my youngest arrived I promised not to skip the gym. Still my workouts on less sleep weren’t as high quality and I was approach with less intensity.

    Both times I’ve had a roaring appetite opting for quick sugar fixes for an energy boost!

    1. That’s great that you were always a good sleeper James! I don’t have kinds myself , but know that they are probably one of the biggest sources of lack of sleep! I always admire parents for all they can do on so little sleep! If I have a couple days where I don’t sleep well in a row I feel it big time! Im not sure how I made it through grad school to be honest. I hope your years of improved sleep are coming soon as the kids get older!

  18. As someone who works night shifts, I feel this topic on a deep level. Some weeks I can get amazing sleep and the next is a different story. The last few months especially with Covid ramping up at my workplace, I’ve had to pay extra attention to things like my eating. I noticed the lack of sleep (and probably stress too) had me eating extra unhealthy foods like you mentioned. It’s really interesting to hear how our bodies are reacting to the lack of sleep. That’s helpful to know 🙂

    1. Ah yes, I don’t have to tell you that night shift workers have it the worst, Alison! My best friend is an overnight pharmacist and for the 8 years I lived with him he worked 7 night shifts then was off 7 days in a row. So he was always having to shift his sleeping schedule every single week. It was brutal I didn’t know how he did it! Finally he’s back to day shifts after 12+ years. Wishing you sweet dreams for good sleep!

  19. Absolutely loved that you talked about this! Ever since I started high school, my parents would always remind me to NEVER compromise school for the amount and quality of sleep I get! I have many friends who are working graveyard in call centers while going to school in the morning and I can just tell they’re stressed and fatigued. They have their reasons, and I don’t always get 7-9 hours of sleep but I always try to! I agree with the consequences and I’m sad sleep deprivation is so rampant especially to students! Really appreciate this. You write blog posts so well.

    http://www.lifebeginsattwenty.com

    1. Awwww thank you Monique! Yes I absolutely agree that students (and probably new parents and shift workers) have it the worst! At least students are typically young and a little more resilient! That’s rough about your friends at the call centers! I remember when I was in grad school, I got maybe 3-5 hours of sleep for 2 years straight. It was absolutely brutal! I’m not sure how I did it to be honest! Thank you for sharing your experiences and keep getting that quality shut eye!

  20. Hi Clarissa. This is so true. Far too many of us greatly underestimate the power of sleep, both for physical and mental wellbeing. A couple of sleep-related questions for you, if I may:
    1. Do you remember your dreams? I never remember mine!
    2. Do you maintain the same sleep pattern at the weekend? Are weekend lie-ins beneficial, detrimental, or neutral?

    1. Great questions Richie!
      1) I personally, very rarely, remember my dreams. Sometimes right after I wake up I’ll remember them, But if that is the case it’s usually gone within 30 minutes to an hour I’d say. But more often than not I wake up knowing I’ve dreamed and just thinking “Wow, that was a really weird dream.” but not being able to recall the specifics. 🤷 How about you?

      2) This is a great question and there’s no one-size-fits-all answer. Right now, for myself personally, I do try to wake up at roughly the same time on the weekends as the weekdays, but as you may know I’m not working due to my injuries (except for on my blog!). When I was working in tourism I’d often have to get up at 5:00 a.m. or so on work days which almost always also included Saturday. So on Sunday I would definitely try and sleep in to the best of my ability but usually could not pass around 7:00-7:30 or so. So in general I would say whether or not you keep the same schedule on the weekends and the weekdays would have to depend on when you get up usually for work. If it’s crazy early I would say try and sleep in for an hour or two if you can. If it’s relatively normal usual wake up time I’d say try and stick to it. But everybody’s different, and again there’s no right answer. I always encourage people to experiment with what feels best for them. Your body will tell you.

  21. This is such a fascinating post even though I made that *EEEK* face when I saw the title, only because I know how I have been struggling with sleep lately. Covid has taken a toll on me when it comes to sleep. Sure I haven’t always had the greatest habits but covid and always being home really threw me for a loop. I am actually going to save this in a bookmark so I can keep coming back to it because there are so many things that need to be remembered from this post! Thank you so much for sharing!

    1. Awww thank you Lisa I am so glad to hear that you got so much out of it! I know that Covid-19 has messed up MANY routines. Sleep included. I’ve always been prone to insomnia myself. But with good sleep hygiene I can hold it at bay to some extent, but not being able to work my regular job, or paddle for my outrigger team really makes sleeping tough at night! Another hidden side effect of covid I suppose! 🤷

  22. My lack of sleep definitely slows me down! Between late nights working, tossing and turning, and waking up early for work, I rarely get a true good night’s sleep anymore. I am so tired that I have no motivation to workout and definitely lack willpower when it comes to unhealthy foods. I am looking forward to your next post about sleep. I need all the help I can get!

    1. I’m sorry to hear about your sleep struggles Heidi! It’s always so frustrating when your best intentions are derailed by sleep deprivation. I hope the next post will be able to give you the help that you’re looking for! Until then, sweet dreams!

  23. After four nights of disrupted sleep, I finally got a good nights sleep last night… Every point you make is so true….sleep is my foundation!

    1. I’m sorry you’ve been sleeping so poorly Denise! I feel like a m preppy much non functional after about 2 consecutive bad nights. It happens so fast doesn’t it? I hope that your sleep will improve soon!

  24. Lack of sleep can cause so much havoc in life. After having my son I was so sleep deprived I felt about as clear headed as I would be after several cocktails. So many negatives from not prioritizing enough sleep.

    This epidemic in the U.S. really needs to be addressed. Maybe if we got more sleep as a people we could start to deal with some of our other issues.

    1. I bet Angela! New parents are one group that feel the effects of sleep deprivation most acutely! So funny that you say that you felt like the sleep deprivation felt like having a couple cocktails. Me and my partner say “sleep drunk” for all the stupid things we do while tired. And sleep deprivation has been linked to increased accidents both at work and while driving, so that’s a great analogy you gave!

      I absolutely agree that the sleep deficit is a huge problem that needs to be addressed. Thank you so much for adding your thoughts and experiences to the conversation!

    1. It is tough! Especially during the pandemic. So many people’s normal routines have been disrupted which sleep can be very sensitive to. It’s definitely something that likely needs more of our attention now than usual. Thank you for stopping by and giving us a read!

  25. Sleep has such a huge impact on your health even if you take out these 6 ways, it’s insane. People really need to start paying attention to it.

    But I didn’t know that it could make you crave more energy-dense foods… Maybe that’s what’s messing with my diet.

    1. I absolutely agree with you Heidi that more people need to start taking sleep a little more seriously.

      And yes a lack of sleep actually changes your hormone control of hunger. Pretty interesting even if it’s not the best news.

  26. Good article. Very true. I can attest to most of these. I go to the gym at night. And when I used to lift heavy four days/week, I’d spend three hours in the gym and get four hours of sleep if I was lucky. It took me days to recover and I was tired and sore most of the week. And to make up for my lack of energy, I craved food all day just to keep myself awake and moving. I gained muscle, but the stress kept the extra fat on. My other goals suffered because I was too mentally and emotionally drained to write. Proper sleep plays a bigger role than most people realize.

    1. I 100% agree George! Being a lifter and an athlete working out like that definitely makes you notice the lack of recovery doesn’t it? Thank you so much for sharing your experience with us. I had similar problems when I was a student athlete. Between classes homework and practice I didn’t get a whole lot of sleep and I think my athletic performance suffered for that. Thanks for stopping by and giving this a read!

    1. That could definitely be it Jenna! And that shift in hormonal control of appetite can happen pretty quickly after just a night or two of poor sleep. Thank you for taking the time to come by and leave a comment!

    1. You’re definitely not alone with struggling to sleep during the pandemic Katherine! I’ve heard that from many people and have even experienced it myself. The whole pandemic has thrown off everybody’s usual routines. I know for me personally I’m not working and I used to have an extremely physical job and I also can’t go to the gym or paddle with my canoe club. So I’m losing out on a lot of physical activity that really helped me get to sleep before. I hope that your sleep will even out soon. Thank you so much for taking the time to share and contribute to the conversation!

  27. Having been started with a fitness regime a few months back, I have experienced almost everything you have mentioned, someday or the other. Really glad to get some insights into the reasons behind them. I am intrigued to learn more about Ghrelin and the endocannabinoid system now. I have been trying to get things in place. Your post will certainly enhance the intensity of my efforts in the right direction. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Awww that’s music to my ears Navita! I’m so glad to hear that I was able to answer some of your questions and that this post sparked some inspiration in you. Best of luck with your new goals and thank you so much for stopping by and giving this a read.

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