Sleep and weight loss in older adults

Recently, we discussed that poor sleep hinders weight loss in a young adult group, such that exercise programs are only effective if those in the program also have high quality sleep. But why is this important? First, sleep apnea is typically caused by excess weight. Therefore, losing weight can help to treat or even completely cure sleep apnea. However, it is important to remember that age groups (e.g., young vs. older adults) differ in metabolic abilities. As such, it was unknown whether the previous study also applies to those in the older adult age range. To our luck, a study has just been released that explored this very topic.

This question was tested by a group of researchers using 22 older adults who were attempting to lose weight. These individuals were enrolled in a weight loss intervention program, although they were not a severely overweight group. Throughout the weight loss intervention, the research participants kept a log of their nocturnal sleep duration. Additionally, there was a control group who underwent relaxation practices but not exercise whose sleep was also recorded.

As expected, those in the exercise condition lost more weight than those who relaxed. Unexpectedly, however, only those with LESS than 7.5 hours of sleep per night were able to lose weight. This is in stark contrast to the results we recently reported which basically said “the more sleep, the better.”

Don’t become discouraged too quickly. In older adult research, things are often more complicated than what you would see in younger populations. For example, there is now evidence to suggest that too much sleep in older adults is bad and that this population may actually need less sleep than young adults. In this case, it could be less than 7.5 hours of sleep is the “healthy” amount of sleep for older adults and that more sleep is indicative of underlying physical issues.


Goerke, M., Sobieray, U., Becke, A., Düzel, E., Cohrs, S., & Müller, N. G. (2014). Successful physical exercise-induced weight loss is modulated by habitual sleep duration in the elderly: results of a pilot study. Journal of Neural Transmission, 1-10.

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.

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