8 Ways You Can Literally Lose Weight in Your Sleep

Updated: Nov. 08, 2020

Still dreaming about your weight-loss goals? Make them a reality with these scientifically backed ways to shed extra pounds while catching some shut-eye.

Can you really lose weight overnight?

It’s not only possible to lose weight overnight—it’s actually a burgeoning area of research. The National Sleep Foundation suggests that modern life, with its late-night exposure to artificial light and longer waking hours, may be messing with the body’s natural circadian rhythms and encouraging it to hold onto fat. A few simple tweaks, however, might be able to change all that. Here are nine ways to set your body up for maximum weight-loss efficiency so that you can close your eyes and let your body work some magic.

alarm clock on a bedstand
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Get a good night’s sleep

How to lose weight overnight? It might really be as simple as hitting the sack on time to combat weight gain. Research presented at the European Congress of Endocrinology in 2017 suggests that sleep loss causes the body to produce fewer fullness hormones, like GLP-1, and more of the hunger-promoting ghrelin. The same is true of night-shift workers. This could mean that when you’re tired, you’re more likely to feel hungry, leading to consumption of more calories than your body actually needs. Here are 50 other weight-loss breakthroughs your doctor wishes you knew.

person adjusting a thermostat
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Turn down the thermostat

Sleeping in cooler temperatures could help you burn more calories and lose weight overnight. According to a study published in the journal Diabetes, people who slept in rooms cooled to 66 degrees for a month increased the amount of calorie-burning brown fat in their bodies by 42 percent; their ability to metabolize fat jumped by 10 percent. Even better, their insulin sensitivity also improved, potentially lowering their risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Researchers previously found that “metabolic signaling” between skeletal muscle and brown-fat tissue in the cold may make the body work harder to reach its optimal core temperature. Sleeping naked could maximize these benefits even further, as can these 30 tiny diet changes that can help you lose weight.

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Cut back on the cocktails

At night, your body burns the most calories during REM sleep. But if you imbibe too much, too close to bedtime, your body will focus on metabolizing the alcohol and prevent you from spending as much time in the sleep state of REM. And that’s just part of the problem. “Our brain would rather burn carbohydrates, just like the rest of the body, and alcohol is basically made from fermented sugars,” explains Michael Jay Nusbaum, MD, Chief of Bariatric Surgery at Morristown Medical Center and Surgical Director of the Metabolic Medicine and Weight Control Center for Atlantic Health. “Guess what happens to those alcohol sugars in your body? They tie up the liver, which now has to detoxify the alcohol, and stops the body from converting the fat cells to ketones, [interfering] in the fat-burning process.” Plus, he explains, when the alcohol breaks down, its byproducts are high in calories. The bottom line: A glass of wine with dinner is OK, but you should stop drinking a few hours before bedtime.

an assortment of foods on small plates

Eat small dinners

Similar to drinking alcohol, if you eat a big meal in the evening, your body will work to metabolize it instead of detoxing and recharging. This becomes especially problematic if you’re loading up on carbs, says Sharon Zarabi, RD, CDN, the Bariatric Program Director at Lenox Hill Hospital. “If we eat carbohydrates, blood sugar becomes elevated and the body secretes insulin to take the sugar we just ate and shuttle to our cells for use,” she explains. “If we aren’t using that energy—since we are going straight to bed—we will store those calories as fat. The rise of insulin [also] creates a whole cascade of events increasing blood sugars, promoting fat storage, and preventing fat breakdown, and it interferes with the circadian clock of proper sleep.” Instead of suggesting a hard cutoff for eating at night, Zarabi suggests swapping carbs for fiber-filled, plant-based foods that will “assist with the digestive process rather than give the body more work when it’s preparing to turn off for sleep.” Wondering what else to eat? Make sure your (early) dinner includes some of these 38 foods that burn fat.

man in bed looking at his laptop at night in a dark room
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Banish electronic devices from your bedroom

Don’t scroll through your Facebook feed before you drift off to dreamland if you want to lose weight overnight. Studies show that nighttime exposure to blue light, which is emitted by smartphones, tablets, and even energy-efficient lighting (LEDs), disrupts the production of the hormone melatonin and that could slow down your metabolism. Harvard researchers found that blue-light exposure can suppress melatonin production for twice as long as natural light and shift the body’s circadian rhythms by twice as much. A study from Northwestern University found that being exposed to blue light at night increases hunger and insulin resistance, which can, in turn, result in weight gain, increased body fat and a greater risk of diabetes.

lamp bedside table

Sleep in complete darkness

In addition to turning off your devices, consider blackout curtains or shades for your bedroom. When the sun goes down, your body starts to produce melatonin, which makes you feel sleepy and also helps to regulate your circadian rhythms. But studies have shown that both indoor lights and even dim light (like that from streetlights) can delay the onset of melatonin production and lead to weight gain. When that happens, you might also be losing out on the production of calorie-burning brown fat, according to a study published in the Journal of Pineal Research. “Melatonin is critical in the regulation of metabolism in our bodies, and increased melatonin has been shown to increase brown fat…and in some studies, improve blood lipid levels and fasting insulin levels,” explains Dr. Nusbaum. He notes that any potential weight loss would likely be minimal, but when you’re trying to shed pounds every little bit counts. (Considering trying a sleep aid? Find out if melatonin gummies really work.)

black woman in workout clothes, earbuds, leaning against a wall
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Stay fit

Working out helps to increase your metabolism all day—and all night—long. That’s because muscle burns more calories than fat does, even when you’re resting. If you’re having trouble fitting in your gym time early in the day, nighttime workouts are fine unless you have insomnia, in which case you should avoid exercise for four hours before bedtime). A National Sleep Foundation survey found that 83 percent of people who exercised at any time of the day slept better at night. If you’re having trouble shedding those last few pounds, try one of these 17 tricks to get over a weight-loss plateau.

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Amp up the fat-burning with intermittent fasting

There’s been a lot of hype surrounding intermittent fasting—and it looks like it may be deserved. These bouts of restricted eating, many of which happen while you’re asleep, can keep your metabolic process healthy. “Intermittent-fasting diets give us the ability to initiate cellular repair and make fat readily accessible to burn as fuel,” Zarabi says. “Human growth hormone is elevated in a fasting state, which allows for muscle synthesis and fat utilization.” That said, a full-fledged fasting regimen may be too extreme for some people and tough to stick to, so you can ease your way into it or simply follow some basic tenets. For example, you can carve out a no-food window at night that lasts between around 12 hours—the popular 12:12 plan—without feeling like you’re depriving yourself too much. Don’t miss these 50 other ways you can lose weight without exercise.