Change Your Sleep Schedule to Lose Weight, Study Shows

by | November 22, 2013 at 11:52 AM | Health

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By Melanie Haiken, Forbes.com Contributor

If you’re looking for a fairly painless way to lose weight (or at least not gain) researchers at Brigham Young University have a new solution for you: Put yourself on a regular sleep schedule.

People who maintain an unvarying sleep routine have a lower percentage of body fat than those who keep irregular sleep hours, says a new study, published in the American Journal of Health Promotion.

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Led by Bruce Bailey, professor of exercise science at Brigham Young, researchers followed 300 female college students, ages 19 to 26, who were given activity trackers to monitor their movements and activities, including waking and sleeping times. The study participants were assessed for body composition before and after the one-week study period.

What the researchers found:

  • Getting less than 6.5 hours of sleep and more than 8.5 hours of sleep was linked to higher body fat
  • High quality sleep was associated with lower body fat while poor sleep correlated with higher body fat
  • Waking and going to sleep at the same time every day (particularly a consistent wake time) was most strongly linked with lower body fat

The difference in body weight was greater with more variation in sleep pattern. Women whose sleep patterns varied by 90 minutes a night had higher body fat than those whose sleep varied by 60 minutes or less on average. Body fat also varied with sleep quantity; women who slept between 8 and 8.5 hours a night had the lowest body fat. The greatest effect at all was seen in women who woke up at the same time every morning seven days a week.

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Now, major caveats here: This was a small study, of very short duration, with study participants selected from a limited and fairly homogeneous pool (only young, only college educated, etc.) Also, of course, it was not blinded or controlled. Of course, sleep alone isn’t enough to peel off the pounds; you’ll also want to try these 5 additional strategies to speed weight loss.

That said, the study followed up on a body of research conducted over the last few years that ties quality and quantity of sleep to weight loss and better weight control. For example, a randomized trial published in the journal Obesity last year found that among overweight and obese women ages 35 to 55 who were engaged in a weight loss program, getting an adequate amount of good quality sleep increased the chance of weight loss success by 33 percent.

While  researchers don’t know exactly how sleep schedules affect body mass and fat, other studies have shown that sleep has an effect on physical activity, appetite, and the hormones that control appetite, metabolism, and the cues that tell us we’re full. According to studies skimping on sleep boosts production of ghrelin, the hormone that controls food cravings, and decreases production of leptin, the hormone that signals satiety and helps prevent over-eating.

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If you need more incentive, weight is just one of many aspects of your health that sleep benefits. Recent research shows that sleep detoxes the brain, helping rid it of protein build-up that can lead to Alzheimer’s and dementia. And research last year found  that sleep loss lowers immunity and raises stroke risk.

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The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.