Belated Wednesday Workout Tip: Sleep – your hunger hormones need it

I was chatting with a good friend of mine who mentioned her weight seemed to be slowly increasing, yet her workout hadn’t changed. I guess you could call it somewhat of a plateau, however, a plateau is usually associated with little change in weight. She mentioned that when she was sick and managed to sleep, her weight went down (she’s a momma and sleep comes second to her babies).

I found this interesting and wanted to explore further.

Using data from the Nurses Study (massive longitudinal study), researchers have found that women who slept less, gained more weight over a 16 year time-period. There was a 32% greater risk of weight gain in women who slept 5 hours versus 7 hours.

So what’s going on biologically that we can attribute this weight gain to? In the Wisconsin Sleep Cohort Study researchers found an association between sleep duration and the metabolic hormones that affect appetite and satiety. Leptin, released from your fat cells, lets your brain know how many fat stores you have in place. Low leptin secretion signals to the brain that energy levels are dwindling and that it’s time to eat. Ghrelin (not gremlin), released from the gut, is highest prior to eating, once again letting the brain know that you’re hungry.

Researchers found that individuals (both men and women) who slept 5 hours versus 8 hours had 15.5% and 14.9% higher levels of leptin and ghrelin, respectively.

What does this mean? It means that the less you sleep, the greater your hunger signals become and the more likely you are to eat.

While a no brainer, it is important to realize that the less sleep we get, the less energy we will have (both physically and mentally). Sleep is restorative and necessary for us to function and function well. The less energy you have the less likely you will be to exercise and/or exercise intensely to surpass a newly reached plateau.

Be sure to catch some sweet zzz’s tonight.



Patel et al. 2006. Association between reduced sleep and weight gain in women. Am J Epi: 264(10); 947-954.

Tahari et al. 2004. Short sleep duration is associated with reduced leptin, elevated ghrelin, and increased body mass index. Plos Med;1:e6.


4 thoughts on “Belated Wednesday Workout Tip: Sleep – your hunger hormones need it

  1. thanks for this Morgan. Making some sense of the issue for me and knowing why it is happening.
    Now I just need to figure out how to get to bed earlier!

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