Sleep…. A Key to Weight Loss, Energy, and Health

Sleep… what a waste of time…. or is it? Psalms says it this way, “It is vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep.” In the midst of our busy lives and “productivity” we seem to have forgotten the ancient wisdom of getting adequate rest. Modern research tells us that the psalmist was right! Sleep is a blessing and is to be protected and appreciated. Let’s see why…

Sleep Benefit #1: Sleep just plain makes you feel better.

We know this is true. After a good night’s sleep, life is better, we have more fun, we are more enjoyable to be around, and stress is easier to deal with. In fact, many individuals with mood disorders simply need proper sleep. If you want to feel great, sleep is a mandatory key.

Sleep Benefit #2: Sleep increases your metabolism.

Ever feel tired after a short night’s sleep? Of course you have. With that fatigue are measurable decreases in metabolism rate. There are two reasons that lack of sleep slows your metabolism:

  1. Fatigue, from lack of sleep, makes us tired, less active, and less productive. This inactivity slows your metabolism.
  2. Losing sleep increases hormones that put the brakes on your metabolism. That’s right, less sleep means your 24 hour ability to burn calories slows down by around 30 calories a day, slowing weight loss and accelerating gain of unwanted fat.

Sleep Benefit #3: Sleep suppresses the appetite.

Americans have decreased their average sleep over the past several decades. Ever since the light bulb, people have stayed up later and gotten up earlier. The result is plain and simple… less sleep!
Of interest, the average weight in America has increased as sleep has decreased! Is reduced sleep the cause?
Here are four key research findings:

  1. Too little sleep increases our hunger hormone (ghrelin).
  2. Too little sleep decreases our appetite suppressing hormone (leptin).
  3. Too little sleep causes cravings for unhealthy foods.
  4. Too little sleep is an actual cause of weight gain.

In fact, sleeping 6 hours, compared to 7 hours, increased the risk of an 11 pound weight gain by 83% in women and 26% in men!

Other research showed that reducing sleep by 3 ½ hours a night increased eating by 296 calories the next day! That is enough to gain 35 pounds a year! Yikes!!!

40% of Americans get less than 7 hours of sleep each night. Could this be why 33% of Americans are obese? There is clearly an association.

Sleep Benefit #4: Sleep promotes Optimum Health.

The 2007-2008 NHANES Study and other research has given some serious insight into our need for sleep. Here are more reasons why it’s a “big deal”:

  1. Heart Attack: Sleeping < 6 hours doubles the risk of heart attack compared to 6-8 hours!
  2. Diabetes: Blood sugars increase with less sleep, increasing the risk of diabetes!
  3. Decisions made are “wiser” with adequate sleep!
  4. Food addictions are more common with less sleep!
  5. High blood pressure: 350% higher risk if < 6 hours of sleep.
  6. Risk of early death increases by 12%
  7. Cancer risk is higher, including a 50% higher risk of colon cancer with < 6 hours of sleep.
  8. Metabolic syndrome risk doubles with < 6 hours of sleep.

How much sleep do we need?

It turns out, the amount of sleep we need is age-dependent. Here are my guidelines based on recent research:

Age 0-10 years:

12+ hours of sleep per night.
Note: 58% of obese children sleep < 8 hrs. 90% of kids getting 11+ hours are normal weight. Sleep is mandatory to keep kids trim!

Age 11-16:

10-12 hours is a minimum.

Ages 17-21:

9-11 hours.

Ages 22-25:

8-10 hours.

Ages 26-30:

7-9 hours.

Ages 30-60:

7 ½ hours.

Age > 60:

Ideal sleep range has not been determined. 6 ½ to 8 hours per night is my current recommendation. Do not exceed 9 hours per night and limit naps to not over 3 hours per week.

Should I take a prescription sleeping pill? No!

Sleep medications, even if over the counter, are associated with an increase in the risk of premature death by 4.6 times compared to natural sleep. Also, cancer risk increases 35%.

Are there natural approaches to great sleep? Yes!

Melatonin in low doses is typically safe and effective for regular use, including travel related sleep challenges. 5-HTP may also be recommended if you are not on a serotonin type anti-depressant.

Avoid stimulants such as caffeine, including chocolate, after 4 pm if you struggle with sleep. Alcohol can also interfere with sleep, contrary to popular opinion.


Sleep will increase your energy, keep you more active and productive, and improve your metabolism. Your risk of obesity, heart attack, diabetes, cancer, and other diseases will plummet with adequate sleep. Your mood and quality of life will improve. Convinced yet?

Let’s get our sleep! Regardless of the world’s poor example around us, relentlessly pursue proper rest and adequate sleep! To achieve Optimum Health (and weight control), adults should get their 7 ½ hours of sleep every night! It is a key to your success.

And remember, Optimum Health is ALWAYS worth the effort.

For Optimum Health,

Rick Tague, M.D., M.P.H.

Rick Tague, M.D., M.P.H. & T.M. is a nutrition & weight loss specialist and the Founder & Medical Director of the Center for Nutrition and Preventive Medicine, P.A.

Dr. Tague is an Alpha Omega Alpha honors graduate of Tulane University School of Medicine in New Orleans. He also holds a Masters Degree in Public Health from Tulane. Dr. Tague is board certified by the American Board of Obesity Medicine and the American Board of Family Medicine. His medical practice has focused on optimum health, nutrition, and weight loss since 1996.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

2 thoughts on “Sleep…. A Key to Weight Loss, Energy, and Health

  1. I recently got a Fitbit Flex device to track my steps, sleep, etc. I know it is a pretty crude means of tracking (I.e., simple motion sensing). On the default setting, it raves about how good my sleep is. When I put it on the more sensitive setting, I seem to get only a couple of good 1-1.5 hour sleep cycles, early in my night’s sleep, the rest are smaller increments with brief restless periods shown, and total sleep time is rarely more than 4-5 hours total (even though I fall asleep right away and sleep for 7-9 hours). I don’t snore and usually feel well rested unless I really didn’t get enough sleep (e.g., went to bed late, had to get up early on rare occasions). I occasionally wake to turn over.

    How much credit should I give the fitbit … Should I be concerned that it flags so many restless intervals? Or is that normal? Is the 7.5hr recommendation referring to the time I went to sleep until the time I awake to get up…or should I be seeking to have fitbit tell me I got 7.5 hrs of sleep time?

  2. Joe,

    Great question. The recommended sleep time is actually the time you have of dark, quiet, “mostly asleep” time in bed. The research findings were not based on being in a sleep laboratory or wearing a FitBit type device. It is more of a rough estimate of “How long were you in bed last night and more or less asleep and not awake, solving life’s problems?” The answer to that question is what we are after when monitoring sleep hours for protecting your health and achieving weight control.

    I have had similar challenges using the FitBit device for monitoring sleep. I suggest you consider simply using the less sensitive setting since that has seemed to work for you. “Restless” sleep may not be ideal, but it is still considered sleep in research studies. If the less sensitive FitBit setting is still not working, just look at the clock before going to sleep and when waking up. That is the measure used in research. It was not a device based measure.

    The best use of the FitBit is for measuring steps, miles, “active minutes” and the estimate of calories burned. Those are more helpful measures than the sleep component, which is very difficult to accurately measure with a simple device.

    Keep up the great work of monitoring your health-promoting daily routine. Getting your activity and sleep routine established properly is truly a key to Optimum Health and weight control.

    Rick Tague, M.D.