Is Sleep as Important as Exercise for Weight Loss?

I’ll bet there isn’t a week that goes by when I don’t have at least one new patient consultation where one of the patient’s top three complaints is that they can’t seem to lose weight. The typical conversation highlights that they have tried numerous diets and they are beating themselves to death at the gym.

They are frustrated because that approach used to work for them in the past doesn’t seem to be working anymore. These same people are often tired and sluggish throughout the day and are under lots of stress. Almost everyone tells me that they initially start by reducing their calorie intake and they are working out for 1 hour or more 3-5 days a week. Most of them are convinced that their next move is to reduce calories even more and try to hit the gym one more day.

They are always surprised when I tell them that we may actually need to go in a totally different direction. (I’ve even had some patients that looked at me like I was from Mars when I told them that they may be working out too much already.)

A Complex and Interconnected System

You see, our body’s metabolism is a very complex and interconnected system and this system craves balance. In fact, it requires careful attention to all of the 7 Pillars of Wellness to function well and be in a state of ease and health. Too little food is as dangerous as too much. Too much exercise can be as detrimental as not enough. So what happens when a person is already working out too much and causing stress on their body and then they decide to wake up an hour earlier or stay up an hour later to squeeze in that workout? Well, it can spell a metabolic “perfect storm”.

Just how important is sleep?

In a recent article published in JAMA,, Bridget Kuehn provides a great summary of the importance of sleep and circadian rhythms in regulating our metabolic engine. It turns out that several areas of the brain are keyed to respond to the natural (and artificial) light/dark cycles. When these areas of the brain are out of sync, it can alter our ability to regulate blood sugar and lead to obesity and diabetes as well as lowering our resting metabolic rate. These issues are compounded by the modern challenges of light pollution and the increasing use of electronic devices that emit the same wavelengths as the sun. These artificial lights can trigger disruptions of this internal body clock.

According to Eve Van Cauter, PhD, professor of medicine at the University of Chicago, our “sleep, circadian rhythms and metabolism make up an inseparable triad.”  She is quoted in the article as saying, “the work so far suggests that being sleep deprived and losing weight are contradictory. To optimize weight loss you need to sleep.”

So if you are trying to lose a few pounds, remember that there are more elements to get in order than just diet and exercise and even though we live in a society where sleep is not very highly respected, it is critical to hormonal health and weight management.

If you are having a hard time sleeping, review the simple tips I covered in this blog post and if you feel that you need additional help, schedule a consultation and we’ll apply the principles of functional medicine to get to the root of the problem.
Featured image photo credit: www.stock.adobe.com

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