Stress, poor sleep and weight gain

Geelong has experienced a few lockdowns in the last 18 months. Many of us have been working or studying at home; and some have gained weight during those lockdowns. At the same time, a large number of us experience stress and poor sleep during. In the PhD thesis (Luo, 2021) written by Dr. Rose Luo, one of our practitioners at Geelong Chinese Medicine Clinic, she explained how these three health issues are linked. We here share the findings.

Stress is one of the contributing factors of weight gain:

  • People tend to overeat to cope with stress (Tomiyama, 2019).
  • In response to stress, the stress hormone cortisol is released, encouraging feeding and excessive caloric intake (Luo, 2021; Tomiyama, 2019).
  • Individuals then crave for energy-dense foods and drinks high in fat and sugar with low nutrient content, such as cakes, biscuits, pizza and soft drinks (Luo, 2021; Tomiyama, 2019).
  • Some people also reduce their physical activity, therefore decreasing energy consumption (Luo, 2021; Tomiyama, 2019).
Figure 1

Poor sleep with shortened sleep hours also leads to weight gain:

  • It could increase appetite and make individuals crave high-calorie food (Luo, 2021).
  • It changes appetite-regulating hormones, such as an increase in the hunger hormone ghrelin and a decrease in the satiety hormone leptin (the hormone that makes you feel you have had enough food ) (Luo, 2021).
  • It contributes to unhealthy eating patterns, such as more snacking and night-time eating (Luo, 2021; Reutrakul & Van Cauter, 2018).
  • It leads to fatigue and sedentary behaviour thus reducing physical activity and decreasing energy expenditure (Luo, 2021; Tomiyama, 2019).
Figure 2

So poor sleep, stress and weight gain are closely connected and creates a vicious cycle. In the next blog, we will talk about how Chinese medicine understands weight gain; and how it might help with breaking the cycle.


Luo, S. (2021). Development of a weight-loss product using Chinese herbal medicine combined with nutritional technologies  (Doctor of Philosophy Dissertation), RMIT University, Melbourne, Australia.

Reutrakul, S., & Van Cauter, E. (2018). Sleep influences on obesity, insulin resistance, and risk of type 2 diabetes. Metabolism, 84, 56–66. doi:10.1016/j.metabol.2018.02.010

Tomiyama, A. J. (2019). Stress and obesity. Annual Review of Psychology, 70, 703–718. doi:10.1146/annurev-psych-010418-102936