What Do Sleep, Stress, and Gut Flora Have To Do With Weight Loss?

Well, just about everything!


Let’s start with sleep, can you remember a time when you had a bad night’s sleep? This might have been a result of getting to bed too late, tossing and turning or caring for a new baby or loved one, whatever the reason, you didn't get the recommended 7-8 hours. “Why does this even matter, I feel fine when I miss a little sleep, it’s not a big deal.” Well, it’s a big deal when you want to lose weight or change your body composition because you’re more likely to overeat the following day. So just think about the impact this can have on your weight loss goals if poor or inadequate sleep happens again and again. It’s like a vicious cycle that just keeps repeating because most people don’t connect the dots between their cravings or lack of will power and their sleep quality. Here are just a few quotes from published studies that support the connection of sleep and weight:

“Short sleep duration and poor sleep were associated with an increase in BMI and fat mass as well as to unhealthy eating behaviors. “*

“Sleep is an important modulator of neuroendocrine function and glucose metabolism and sleep loss has been shown to result in metabolic and endocrine alterations, including decreased glucose tolerance, decreased insulin sensitivity, increased evening concentrations of cortisol, increased levels of ghrelin, decreased levels of leptin, and increased hunger and appetite. Recent epidemiological and laboratory evidence confirm previous findings of an association between sleep loss and increased risk of obesity.”**

“Sleep deprivation studies have shown that sleep loss can cause an increase in the ratio of ghrelin to leptin, enhancing appetite and, specifically, increasing cravings for carbohydrate foods. A large majority of studies have found that sleep restriction leads to increased caloric consumption (greater than 250 kcal/day).***

“Further evidence shows that sleep duration, sleep quality, and the timing of sleep may affect the 24-hour patterns of hormone production, including insulin, cortisol, glucagon, catecholamines, growth hormone (GH), leptin, and ghrelin”^

Let me drill this down a bit for more practical application. The literature supports a consistent sleep schedule that allows for 7-8 hours of sleep per night. The time at which you go to bed and wake in the morning should be consistent every night. This consistency lends itself to enforcing patterns that a person can maintain which creates a routine around bedtime.

As you read this I’m assuming there are many of you who are saying, yeah right, how can I do this. I’m a busy parent and use those evening hours to catch-up on work duties, housework, connecting with friends etc. That’s ok, BUT if you have a goal of weight loss or want to change your body composition this is where you need to start! It’s just as important as getting to the gym and working out or making better food choices. It’s that piece of the puzzle that’s required for success. If you can’t prioritize this then you need to scratch weight loss off your list of goals right now.

What if I get to bed and have every intention of getting the right amount of sleep, but I just can’t sleep or I wake up feeling fatigued? This is all too common and something that needs to be addressed by assessing sleep hygiene in addition to other things. More on this in a little while.


What does Stress have to do with my goals? Stress can come from many areas in life such as emotional, physical and biochemically. Why is stress bad when it comes to weight loss goals? Have you ever heard of Cortisol? It’s referred to as the stress hormone and can have a huge impact on many aspects of someone’s life. Cortisol is great, it acts as a natural pain reliever and anti-inflammatory. When someone is dealing with stress the body’s natural response is to elevate cortisol to deal with the stress. Our bodies are amazing when it comes to the things that they are capable of. The only problem is, we all live in such a high stress world and we’re never recovering from the stress we’re exposed to because we’re constantly exposed. So our cortisol levels stay jacked resulting in a miscommunication between the Hypothalamus, Pituitary and Adrenal glands. This elevation can be maintained for a little, but eventually cortisol levels drop lower than they should which also creates problems. Both scenarios wreak havoc on weight loss goals and also lend to many poor health implications beyond just the ability to maintain your goal weight.

If you want weight loss, body composition and better health, then stress is the next area, after sleep, where you need to focus. There are ways to approach elevated and depleted cortisol levels that can get you back in the game and on track to hitting your goals.

Gut Flora

Lastly, I want to touch on Gut Flora, aka your microbiome. Currently the microbiome is one of the fastest growing areas of research as it pertains to many aspects of overall health including weight management. A recent study looked at human subjects and found that their differing microbiome’s attributed to how they digested food and extracted amino acids and other nutrients (aka metabolism) from those foods. These subjects were eating the same food, yet they were experienced different calorie extraction from these foods which was dependent on the kinds of bacteria that were present in their digestive systems.

“Furthermore, focused on the diet and on host and gut microbiota metabolic interactions, we show how the gut ecosystem and the individual members of the gut microbiota contribute to the host metabolism.”^^

“Even obesity has been linked to changes in our gut ecosystem, resulting from an intake of inflammatory omega 6s and not enough anti-inflammatory omega 3s. Bad bugs produce toxins called lipopolysacchardies (LPS) that trigger inflammation, insulin resistance or pre-diabetes and therefore, promote weight gain. Lack of sleep and chronic stress also contribute to gut imbalance, In fact, your gut flora listens to and becomes influenced by your thoughts and feelings. So be sure to get 7 to 8 hours of quality sleep and remember to practice your favorite stress reduction activities daily.”^^^

So what do you do to make sure you don’t have the bad bacteria that can lead to obesity, diabetes and a host of other complications? Some simple nutritional strategies can be initiated as well as laboratory testing which can tell us what your current flora is composed of.

If you’re ready to get started on your weight loss/body composition journey reach out to me at optimizetothrive.com and schedule a free consult so I can help you reach your goals. We will dive into Sleep, Stress and Gut Flora and get you on the road to feeling and looking better.



*Sleep Science
 Volume 9, Issue 2, April–June 2016, Pages 117–122
**Sleep and Obesity
 Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care. 2011 Jul; 14(4): 402–412.
***Today’s Dietitian
 The Link Between Sleep and Weight Gain - Research Shows Poor Sleep Quality Rises Obesity and Chronic Disease Risk. Vol 14 No.6 P.48 June 2012
^Today’s Dietitian
 The Link Between Sleep and Weight Gain - Research Shows Poor Sleep Quality Rises Obesity and Chronic Disease Risk. Vol 14 No. 6 P. 48 June 2012
^^Cell Metabolism
 Volume 22, Issue 2, p320-331, August 4, 2015
^^^Dr. Mark Hyman
 “How to Fix your Gut Bacteria and Loose Weight,” February 2nd 2016