The Link between Sleep, Nutrition, and Weight Gain

Sleep. We all need it every day, yet few people understand the importance of and how to achieve a great night of sleep. Understanding the link between sleep, nutrition, and weight gain is important.

So, how important is sleep?

I will go as far as to say that I believe sleep is the most underrated aspect of overall health and well-being. Period.

If you’ve ever had a great night of sleep, you understand how amazing you feel when waking up. Your energy, motivation, mental clarity, happiness, and mood are all elevated.

On the flip side, poor sleep is associated with a massive range of negative health impacts. These include decreased mental acuity (foggy brain), fatigue, grumpiness, impaired coordination and problem-solving ability, plus many more issues. 

This is all with even one poor night of sleep. Chronic sleep deprivation sets us up for a host of other longer-term challenges including chronic disease, hormonal dysregulation, heart disease, diabetes, and obesity.

On the hormonal side, we even see negative changes in a single night of poor sleep.


Today’s post will look a bit closer at how these changes impact nutrition and promote weight gain.


The Hormonal Impact of Poor Sleep

When we have a poor night of sleep, whether we are restless, overstimulated, or stay up too late. There are three important hormone changes happen that can dramatically impact our nutrition, cravings, and behavioural choices.


The first is cortisol. When we haven’t received the rest, recovery, and regeneration from a good night of sleep, this stress hormone becomes elevated.

Higher cortisol levels lead to a “fight or flight” response in the body. While it may still be mild after a single night, this elevated cortisol increases our resting heart rate and changes the ratio of fuel we use at the cellular level.

To put it more simply, after poor sleep, we will use more carbohydrates and less fat for fuel, even if we are “at rest” during the day.

Combined with the stresses of a normal day, a huge segment of the population lives in this “chronically stressed” state and has elevated levels of cortisol. This is where chronic stress contributes to heart disease, diabetes, mood disorders, and lower quality of life.


The next hormone to consider is leptin. This has been called the “satiety hormone” because one of its key functions is to inhibit appetite when we have consumed enough energy for our needs.

Sleep deprivation and poor sleep quality reduce the levels and effectiveness of leptin in our body. This means we will be much more likely to overeat.


Another related hormone is ghrelin. It’s been called the “hunger hormone” because it stimulates appetite when we need more energy in our body.

Lack of sleep increases the levels of ghrelin making us more hungry and likely to overeat, particularly sugars and fat.

Sugars provide a source of instant energy and fats have more than double the nutrient density

than protein and carbohydrates. If our body perceives that we need more energy, from an evolutionary perspective, consuming them makes sense.

However, from a modern sleep deprivation perspective, it’s counterproductive and leads to overeating, particularly of unhealthy, convenience-food options.


The Behavioural Impact of Poor Sleep

Studies show that poor sleep activates key areas of the brain related to pleasure and reward. While there is still much to learn on this topic, research shows that people are much more likely to “eat for pleasure” when sleep deprived, even when they aren’t hungry and have adequate energy stores in their body.

Due to the previously discussed changes, our brain and body are not set up to make positive choices when we are sleep deprived. This makes it significantly harder to make smart food, nutrition, and lifestyle choices.


This spiral effect of hormonal and behavioural changes is a major reason why so many people struggle with nutrition and weight loss.

The great news is that getting good sleep is a simple and highly effective solution!


Here are some simple tips to help you get a great sleep!

  • Establish an evening wrap-up ritual that includes positive sleep hygiene
  • Set a bedtime alarm for 1 hour before bed
  • Aim to get to bed by 10 pm (the hours of sleep before midnight or most helpful)
  • Be as consistent as possible with your bedtime and wake-up times
  • Minimize screen time and activity during this last hour before bed
  • Relax and do some movement
  • Plan your schedule and “Top 3” tasks for the next day.
  • Make sure your room is as dark as possible
  • Aim for a cool temperature in your room
  • Minimize or eliminate sounds (other than white noise or relaxing music)
  • Eliminate screen time (phone/computer/TV)
  • Make your bed a place for sleeping (avoid working, watching TV, etc.)
  • Stretch/relax/meditate before bed


These are all excellent guidelines to help you master your sleep habits. Of course, life doesn’t always cooperate. Sometimes there are events, out-of-the-ordinary circumstances, or kids that can throw a wrench in your plans.

That’s OK. By understanding the impact that poor sleep has on your brain and body, you will be able to consciously plan and overcome many of the barriers.

On the nutrition side, this includes having healthy food, meals, and snacks on hand and prepared while also removing unhealthy options from your house, or making them much harder to access on the spur of the moment.

If certain sleep interruptions become a regular occurrence, then creating a strategy to overcome them is extremely helpful. This includes kids and pets.

While it may take some hard work, perseverance and making tough decisions, the short-term pain to establish solid expectations, habits, and routines is worth every second of high-quality sleep you get from it.


We would love to know your thoughts and the challenges you’ve faced with sleep. Post a comment or drop us a message at 

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