Thanks to factors such as stress, smartphone use and the continual blurring of work/life boundaries, more than one in three adults in the UK are not regularly getting the recommended minimum of six hours’ sleep a night.


Now, a study carried out at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark suggests that a lack of sleep could be hindering people’s attempts to keep weight off after dieting.

As previous studies have shown that not getting enough sleep, or getting poor quality sleep, can increase the risks of high blood pressure, high cholesterol and the build up of fatty deposits building up in arteries, the team wanted to investigate the effect of sleep on weight gain.

To make the finding they tracked the sleeping habits of 195 adults aged between 18 and 65, all with a body mass index (BMI) higher than 32, for one year after putting them on a strict 800kcal diet for eight weeks.

They found that the participants that slept less than six hours per night on average increased their BMI by 1.3 points more than longer sleepers and also those that scored poorly on self-reported sleep quality survey increased their BMI by 1.2 compared to good sleepers.

“The fact that sleep health was so strongly related to weight loss maintenance is important since many of us don’t get the recommended amount of sleep needed for optimal health and functioning,” said study leader Prof Signe S. Torekov.

The study also found that those who exercised for at least two hours per week were more likely to report having longer, better quality sleep.

“Future research examining possible ways of improving sleep in adults with obesity will be an important next step to limit weight regain. Weight loss maintained with exercise seems promising in improving sleep,” said Torekov.

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Jason Goodyer
Jason GoodyerCommissioning editor, BBC Science Focus

Jason is the commissioning editor for BBC Science Focus. He holds an MSc in physics and was named Section Editor of the Year by the British Society of Magazine Editors in 2019. He has been reporting on science and technology for more than a decade. During this time, he's walked the tunnels of the Large Hadron Collider, watched Stephen Hawking deliver his Reith Lecture on Black Holes and reported on everything from simulation universes to dancing cockatoos. He looks after the magazine’s and website’s news sections and makes regular appearances on the Instant Genius Podcast.