Snooze more to lose more weight, research reveals

As reports show lockdown has triggered a sharp increase in anxiety-related sleeping problems, research reveals the impact a sleepless night can also have on our weight-loss efforts, with people less likely to cook healthy meals and cancelling planned physical activity. Despite our best efforts, a lack of sleep makes us more likely to reach for sugary or fatty foods for an energy boost, which in turn sees our weight go up not down and we find it even harder to sleep.

The survey of 3,100 slimming club members reveals nearly two thirds (62%) said they had problems sleeping, with many waking up more than twice a night and tiredness affecting their diet and activity choices. Members with a higher BMI were more likely to struggle with their sleep. However, reassuringly, the survey also found that as people lost weight they reported improvements in their sleep.

The research reveals one in three respondents said they are less likely to cook healthy homemade meals (36%) and nearly half of those questioned said they are less likely to engage in physical activity (48%) after a bad night’s sleep.

The findings also show:

  • three in four said that their food choices were affected by poor sleep (73%) with the most likely go-to snacks when tired being:

o chocolate and sweets (66%)

o biscuits and cakes (41%)

o crisps or salty snacks (36%)

  • One in three also said they drank more caffeinated drinks than usual (30%) and just over a quarter (28%) were less likely to eat what they had planned
  • Of those who said their food choices were impacted by a lack of sleep, over half (52%) said they were more likely to buy on impulse, one in four (39%) said they would buy more unhealthy food than usual and 28% said they would buy more convenience food
  • A third were more likely to eat more sugary or fatty food for an energy boost (31%)

The research, from UK and Ireland weight-loss organisation Slimming World, is released as part of their Snooze More to Lose More survey* which surveyed its members over the course of week about aspects of their sleep. The survey of 3,156 adults looked at how poor sleep impacts weight loss and how weight, in turn, can impact on our ability to get a good night’s sleep.

However, almost 50% of Slimming World members losing 15% or more body weight said their sleep improved after losing weight and over a third of the members surveyed said they’d been sleeping better since joining Slimming World (38%), and the survey showed the more weight Slimming World members lost, the more likely they were to report improvements in sleep.

Laura Holloway, from Slimming World’s Research and Scientific Affairs team
We knew from listening to our members how poor sleep can impact weight-loss success and how members feel their weight affects their sleep. It becomes a vicious sleep cycle – we reach for the high-fat, high-sugar foods because we’re tired, our weight goes up not down, despite our best efforts, and we find it even harder to sleep.
Laura Holloway, from Slimming World’s Research and Scientific Affairs team

The findings are released on World Sleep Day (Friday 19th March), at a time when many of us have been struggling to get a good night’s sleep because of anxiety, change and disruption to our lives caused by Covid-19. Previous research by Slimming World has found 16% of adults said they were drinking more alcohol during the first lockdown, which although initially causes drowsiness can also lead to a restless night.**

For people trying to lose weight, getting support to make healthy choices, helping them to become aware of their sleep patterns and receiving tailored advice on slumber strategies is key.

Laura Holloway, from Slimming World’s Research and Scientific Affairs team, says: “We conducted the survey to improve our understanding about how sleep, or lack of it, affected our members’ lives and their weight-loss journeys. The findings revealed losing weight with Slimming World has been beneficial to improving sleep for our members generally and reducing sleep problems.

We knew from listening to our members how poor sleep can impact weight-loss success and how members feel their weight affects their sleep. It becomes a vicious sleep cycle – we reach for the high-fat, high-sugar foods because we’re tired, our weight goes up not down, despite our best efforts, and we find it even harder to sleep. Cue an alarming impact on our wellbeing! Lack of sleep affects key hormones and neurotransmitters that help regulate the appetite – and the way the body metabolises fat. Research also shows that poor sleep can stimulate the reward centres in the brain, which can influence the desire for food and mean you get more pleasure from it – making it doubly hard to resist temptation!

“Although we know it’s not always that simple, especially with the challenges and worries we’ve all been dealing with throughout the pandemic, if you want to lose weight successfully, getting a good night’s sleep can be crucial. In our Slimming World groups, members can talk through their experiences and identify their personal behaviours, including sleep patterns. Tips and tired-day tactics are shared and there is a wealth of advice and sleep habit strategies available online to members.

One top tip is to try to batch-cook healthy meals for the week ahead – that way there will always be something comforting and slimming friendly on standby on a too-tired-to-cook day. Avoiding alcohol will also help. While it can initially cause drowsiness, which might help you to drop off, it can also lead to a restless night, early waking and a worse sleep overall. Banning screens from the bedrooms, enjoying a brisk walk in the evening and building a relaxing routine before bedtime like having a warm bath, reading a good book or having a hot, milky drink are all sleep habit strategies which can help.”


For interviews with Laura Holloway, Research Associate, Slimming World, UK, please contact Slimming World Press Office: helen.smith@slimmingworld.co.uk// Tel. 07770 807728

*Holloway, L., Morris, L., Dowse, E., Bennett, S.E., Lavin, J. (2016) Snooze you lose? Views of the relationship between sleep and weight-related behaviours in people aiming to lose weight.

**Research conducted by Slimming World and presented at ECOICO in September 2020. 637 adults completed an online survey asking their opinions about their general health, mood, diet, alcohol intake, physical activity and weight management between 9th April and 20th May 2020.

Ryan’s weight worries used to keep him up at night, causing him to fall asleep on the job. He’s now sleeping soundly after losing over 15st

Wimborne bricklayer Ryan has built a new future for himself after losing over 15st in 16 months

In September 2019, weighing over 34st, Ryan Money, 34, walked through the doors of his local Slimming World group, not realising the impact it would have on the rest of his life.

“Although I was never really ill and could count on one hand the number of times I’d been to a doctor, I always had terrible indigestion and my legs had started retaining water and swelling. I was never able to sleep for more than an hour at a time as I needed to get up to go to the toilet. I’d often stop breathing through the night too which was pretty scary.

“I was tired of not getting a good night’s sleep because of my weight. I didn’t know how to cook, so I snacked on crisps and sweets throughout the day and relied on takeaways for my lunch and dinner. Over the years, I’d been steadily getting bigger and bigger. It had been five years since I’d had a good night’s sleep and it affected my job as a bricklayer as I had no energy and would fall asleep at lunch time and on the lift home from work. When I did manage to sleep, I would snore loudly and keep everyone else awake! Some nights I’d wake up gasping for air because I’d stopped breathing in my sleep. A couple of weeks before joining Slimming World, I went on a camping trip with friends and found it very awkward as I kept the whole camp awake with my snoring. I know the other campers weren’t happy about this and I’m sure they knew it was me.

“I knew deep down something had to change and I’m so glad I decided to join Slimming World. A few family members had said how great it was and I knew I needed the support each week and that I’d have given up if I’d tried to lose weight alone at home. Going into the group I was nervous but as soon as I got inside, it was fine. I heard everyone talk and realised everyone there was in the same boat.

“At the first weigh-in, when I saw 34st on the scales I couldn’t believe it. I knew I’d got into a bad way, but I had no idea I was that heavy. I would have guessed I weighed 24st, around 10st lighter, if someone had asked me.

“I lost 16.5lbs the first week and that put a big smile on my face. I felt the changes almost immediately that first week as I was sleeping much better and had no indigestion. When I think about my diet before I joined Slimming World, I can’t believe it. I’d often binge on chocolate, crisps and sweets for a much-needed energy boost and, too tired to cook, I relied on takeaways! I’d have them once or twice a day. On one occasion, my girlfriend Steph and I drove to KFC but there was a big queue, so we drove to McDonald’s on the same retail park to get some burgers to eat while we waited!

“Now I’m eating constantly but this time it’s fresh fruit and veg and lean meat. I’m not much of a chef and you don’t have to be - cooking chicken and vegetables and a healthy breakfast tray bake is my favourite. I love tomatoes too and raw veg. I honestly never thought I’d be one to share recipes but at the group we love swopping ideas! During lockdown it was fantastic to keep in touch via the virtual classes which we set up, but I can’t wait until we can all see each other in person again.

“I work as a builder with my dad, we’re a father and son team and the clients we meet can’t believe it when they see me. They often ask, “Where’s the rest of you?” or ask me how I’ve done it. One guy joined Slimming World too after seeing my results and he’s now seen the benefit too which I find really heart-warming as it’s so lovely to think I’ve inspired someone.

“Losing weight has changed every part of my life, even things you don’t think about. I’ve always been a big sports fan, especially Rugby Union and boxing but I’ve never been able to just go and watch any match in case I wouldn’t fit into the seats. I support Bath and went to see them once but I was so nervous the whole match in case someone sat next to me as I was covering two seats.

“I’m so proud of what I’ve achieved. I’ve gone down from a 4XL to an XL and a 58-inch to a 42-inch waist. Before I lost weight, I found it incredibly hard to find clothes to fit me and when my legs started to retain water, I had to buy stretchy jeans. Now I absolutely love buying clothes - even though my choice is limited at present to Asda and Tesco due to the lockdown. I don’t know who I’ve turned into!

“I realise now it was a vicious cycle – my weight left me so tired that it affected my choices around food and I didn’t have the energy to do any activity, which all meant I gained more weight and my sleep got worse. There is so much I can do now which I couldn’t before. After the pandemic I’d love to get into boxing – I’d never have had the confidence before or the fitness level. I’m so grateful to Tracey who runs my group and all the members. I’ve never met anyone there who wasn’t warm and welcoming. I joined Slimming World to lose weight, what I didn’t expect was to be part of such a great community.”

For more information, visit slimmingworld.co.uk to find your nearest group.

Ryan Money

Starting weight: 34st 3lbs

Current weight: 18st 10lbs

Notes to Editors

Slimming World was founded by Margaret Miles-Bramwell (OBE, FRSA) in 1969. Members join local weekly groups or an online programme. Groups are run by a network of community-based Slimming World Consultants across the UK and Republic of Ireland. Consultants are trained in the role of diet and physical activity in weight management, as well as recognised behaviour-change techniques. Slimming World’s healthy eating plan, Food Optimising, is based on the science of energy density and satiety. Our phased activity programme, Body Magic, eases members into activity until it becomes an intrinsic part of their daily routine. Slimming World’s programme integrates practical, up-to-date advice with a highly-developed support system based on care and compassion, and Consultant training focuses on facilitating, encouraging and empowering members to make changes in a supportive, warm and friendly group environment. Consultant training is delivered through the Slimming World Academy. Slimming World also invests in a comprehensive research programme to develop its support for long-term weight management. The group support provided by Slimming World is recognised as effective by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) and the NHS.

For more information about Slimming World’s approach visit slimmingworld.co.uk. Follow Slimming World on Twitter at www.twitter.com/slimmingworld or become a Slimming World fan on Facebook at www.facebook.com/slimmingworld