Disrupted sleep hinders weight loss

Occurence of sleep apnea is closely related to excess weight. Therefore, losing weight can help to treat or even completely cure sleep apnea. But there’s a catch – sleep is important for weight loss because sleep helps to regulate weight and hunger hormones. Therefore, if you have disturbed sleep from sleep apnea, could weight loss be harder? 

This question was tested by a group of researchers in Japan using 90 women who were attempting to lose weight. These women, who were all overweight or obese, were enrolled in a weight loss intervention program. While they were in this program, their sleep was monitored by motion-detecting wrist-bands. Their hormone levels (leptin, ghrelin, cortisol, and insulin, which all affect hunger and weight loss) were also monitored throughout the weight loss intervention. Insulin resistance was measured as well. 

When examining the sleep of these individuals, it was found that those with 5 or more waking episodes during the night lost less weight than those who had less than 5 awakenings per night. Those with more awakenings during the night also had poorer insulin resistance than the others, and there was also a difference in cortisol between groups.

These results are incredible, although they are a bit discouraging. If poor sleep hinders weight loss, how are sleep apneics ever supposed to lose weight? The answer may lie in treatment, if it’s effective. Although sleep apnea treatment may be obtrusive and uncomfortable, using it for as long as possible during the night will minimize awakenings. This could lead to greater weight loss and thus lower the chances of having to stay treated for sleep apnea.


Source: Sawamoto, R., Nozaki, T., Furukawa, T., Tanahashi, T., Morita, C., Hata, T., ... & Sudo, N. (2014). Higher sleep fragmentation predicts a lower magnitude of weight loss in overweight and obese women participating in a weight-loss intervention. Nutrition & diabetes, 4(10), e144.

Janna Mantua


Janna is a PhD Student / Graduate Research Assistant at University of Massachusetts Amherst with a background in clinical sleep research and psychology. Janna Mantua is a PhD student in the Behavioral Neuroscience department at the University of Massachusetts. Her research focuses on sleep and aging, with specific projects on cognitive health, inflammation, memory formation, and neuroimaging. Prior to her PhD work, Janna was involved in research on sleep apnea and cognitive decline at the NYU Sleep Disorders Center.

Leave a comment

Comments have to be approved before showing up.