Research: Sleep may be key to weight loss maintenance

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Consistent initiation of sleep appears to assist the maintenance of body weight

Young girl sleeping in bedroom
Young girl sleeping in bedroom

Several studies have suggested that reduced sleep duration and quality are associated with an increased risk of obesity and related metabolic disorders, but the role of sleep in long-term weight loss maintenance has not been thoroughly explored in research. It makes sense based on the mechanism of weight gain that inconsistent sleep would impact the ability to maintain a healthy weight. Poor sleep increases stress and stress hormones, which result in hunger and weight gain.

The good news is that a study released in 2020 looked at this very topic​[1]​. The study is an ancillary study based on data collected on participants from the Navigating to a Healthy Weight trial. The aim was to test the efficacy of an evidence-based digital toolkit consisting of targeting self-regulation, motivation, and emotion regulation on weight loss maintenance. The study was performed in Europe.

Before enrolment, a group of over 1600 participants had to achieve a weight loss of over 5% and be overweight prior to the intervention. Participants were followed during the 12-month trial for change in weight, body composition, metabolic markers, diet, physical activity, sleep, and psychological mediators/moderators of weight loss maintenance.

The mean weight loss prior to baseline assessments was 11.4 kg. Objectively measured sleep was collected using the Fitbit Charge, from which sleep duration, sleep duration variability, sleep onset, and sleep onset variability were assessed across 14 days and compared to baseline examinations. The primary outcomes were 12-month changes in body weight and body fat percentage.

The researchers found no evidence that sleep duration, sleep duration variability, or sleep onset were associated with 12-month weight regain or change in percentage body fat. Higher variability in sleep onset, assessed using the standard deviation across all nights recorded, was associated with a significant weight regain and an increase in percentage body fat. They also found sleep onset variability was associated with an increase in HbA1c which is a marker of increased insulin resistance.

The bottom line: The results suggest that maintaining a consistent sleep onset is associated with improved weight loss maintenance and body composition. Sleep onset and variability in sleep duration may be associated with subsequent change in different obesity-related insulin residence and metabolic markers. More research is needed to look at the results and confirm them.

We recommend the Fitbit Charge activity tracker:

Reference

  1. [1]
    S. C. Larsen et al., “Consistent sleep onset and maintenance of body weight after weight loss: An analysis of data from the NoHoW trial,” PLoS Med, p. e1003168, Jul. 2020, doi: 10.1371/journal.pmed.1003168. [Online]. Available: http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1003168
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About the Author

ChuckH
I am a family physician who has served in the US Army. In 2016, I found myself overweight, out of shape, and unhealthy, so I made a change to improve my health. This blog is the chronology of my path to better health and what I have learned along the way.

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