The Power of Sleep Routines on Weight Loss

Research from Chris Kline shows how poor sleep health decreases the effectiveness of weight loss. It is one of the first studies to look at the full range of sleep-related health factors. 

April 01, 2021

Gregory Latshaw

Chris Kline headshotAmong the disruptions caused by the pandemic is an interruption into people’s normal sleep schedules. People are getting too much sleep, not enough sleep, are sleeping poorly, or are sleeping at irregular times.

New research from the University of Pittsburgh School of Education shows these changes may be doing worse than making people groggy. They may be expanding people’s waistlines, especially for those who are trying to lose weight and can’t keep the pounds off.

Assistant Professor Chris Kline was part of a collaborative research team whose study sheds new light on this subject. The team included Pitt faculty from nursing, epidemiology, biostatistics, and psychiatry and faculty from the University of Illinois and University of Georgia.

The researchers examined the impact of sleep on the amount of weight loss that was achieved during a behavioral weight loss intervention. Instead of limiting their scope to counting the amount of sleep one gets—as most prior research studies have done—the team investigated six different dimensions of sleep health. The six dimensions were regularity, timing, duration, efficiency, satisfaction, and alertness. 

“We found conclusively that we see a larger overall effect on weight loss when we consider everything as a whole. One’s overall sleep health is important. Positive effects in sustaining weight loss are not being driven by any one particular dimension,” says Kline.

The findings are documented in the research paper “The Association Between Sleep Health and Weight Change During a 12-Month Behavioral Weight Loss Intervention,” which was published by the International Journal of Obesity in March 2021. 

Multiple Factors Make a Difference

For the study, the researchers observed sleep and weight loss among 125 participants. Assessments were conducted at the baseline, six months, and 12 months.  Participants wore an accelerometer on their wrist to help measure sleep behaviors and completed questionnaires about their sleep.

The study results demonstrated that for every additional attribute of positive sleep health, the participant experienced 0.5% to 1% greater weight loss over a six-month period. 

Furthermore, among these individual attributes, sleep timing and regularity had the greatest effect. Sleep schedules with more variability were associated with reduced weight loss.

For example, every additional hour in variability associated with sleep timing and sleep regularity reduced weight loss by 0.5% to 1.25% and 1.5% to 2%, respectively. 

“Those were the two dimensions that stood out from the rest. It speaks to the potential importance of our body clock, which helps to regulate the timing of our sleep, on metabolism,” says Kline.

The research was part of the larger EMPOWER study, which is seeking to understand how to sustain weight loss. 

Applying the Findings

What can people wanting to lose weight take away from the research?  

According to Kline, it is extremely important to focus on behaviors most likely to improve the quality of your nighttime sleep. These include minimizing caffeine, exercising, minimizing alcohol intake, and getting light exposure in the daytime. 

Furthermore, the person should try to establish a regular sleep pattern where they go to bed and wake up at approximately the same time each day. (This includes holidays and weekends, too.)

As the pandemic continues, for the millions of people wanting to sleep better and lose weight, the research offers some new insights that can help. 

About the Faculty

Christopher E. Kline

Christopher E. Kline

Chris Kline is an Assistant Professor in the School of Education at the University of Pittsburgh. His research is focused on the relationship between sleep and physical activity. He has received grants from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

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