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Nutrition Myth Busters: Sleep Less, Eat More, Gain Weight?

Cassie.Rowe's picture

Cassie Rowe, MS, RD, LD/N

I hear it over and over again. Weight loss gurus expounding the “fact” that if you get more sleep, you’ll eat less, and you’ll lose weight. Is it true? Let’s take a quick moment to explore this common interpretation.

Physiologically speaking, the very basic provision of food is energy (i.e., Calories). Of course, just about everyone on the planet knows that burning more Calories than you eat can lead to weight loss. But let’s stop right there. What exactly happens, biologically, when you lose weight? Well, the body doesn’t know that you’re not starving, for one—a throwback from the olden days. In fact, you can consider dieting to be self-imposed starvation, especially when you cut your Caloric intake below what your body needs to function normally because your body doesn’t know the difference. When this happens, the normal survival response is that the body slows your basal metabolic rate (BMR), or the minimum number of Calories your body needs to run basic processes like the beating your heart, breathing in and out, and the functioning of your brain. The “number” of Calories you need depends on many factors, which you’re probably already familiar with: age, physical activity, height, gender, etc.

So what’s the deal with the more or less sleep thing? Well, let’s think about it. If you compare someone who gets less sleep to someone who gets more sleep, what would be the major difference between the two? The number of Calories needed by that person to function throughout the day to meet his/her BMR needs. So, yes, it makes perfect sense that someone who gets less sleep must expend more Calories in the day and, therefore, must need more Calories to replenish that energy that’s burned. Needing more energy to get through the day doesn’t mean that someone who sleeps less will absolutely gain weight because that would depend on many other factors, including being attuned to the body’s hunger and fullness signals, emotional eating, etc. As we’ve discussed before, fat doesn’t mean unhealthy. So what’s the outcome, myth or fact? Myth. Busted!

Does that mean you should eat meals or snacks? Judy explores the snacking thing here.

Have a nutrition question? I’d love to answer it. Email Me (Cassie) a nutrition fact or question that you have heard before, and I’ll gladly scour the evidence and post it on the blog.

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