middle-aged woman sleeping

Can Menopausal Women Sleep Belly Fat Away?

December 12, 2023
dr. brooke aggarwal

Brooke Aggarwal, EdD, MS, FAHA, Assistant Professor of Medical Sciences (in Medicine) at CUIMC

Hot flashes, mood swings, night sweats, insomnia, women going through menopause know these symptoms all too well. Add extra belly fat to the list, and no wonder women consider this stage of life uncomfortable. However, recent studies suggest that quality sleep may help women lose or control their weight.

Menopause signifies the end of a woman's menstrual cycle and fertility. Hormonal changes, particularly a decline in estrogen, play a significant role in the increase of body fat in the abdomen. A decrease in muscle mass and metabolism slowdown can also cause the fat in the stomach area. And insomnia and lack of quality sleep can contribute, as well. Exhaustion can lead to poor eating habits and nutritional choices. 

"When we are tired, we tend to choose less healthy foods and eat a greater quantity of food, which can lead to weight gain over time. Women who are going through menopause should definitely keep an eye on their sleep habits and take this seriously to reduce the likelihood of adverse weight changes," said Brooke Aggarwal, EdD, MS, FAHA, an assistant professor of medical sciences in the Division of Cardiology at Columbia University Irving Medical Center.

But belly fat is not just an appearance issue; it can lead to even bigger health problems. Eating poorly and weight gain are associated with high blood pressure, diabetes, added stress and mental health problems, and inflammation, all of which increase the risk for heart disease and stroke.

"Menopause is an early window for the prevention of cardiovascular disease," she said. "This is a critical period in a woman's life, and there is much that can be done to reduce cardiovascular risks so women can live longer, healthier lives."

Why Less Sleep Means More Belly Fat

So why is sleep so important in reducing belly fat in menopausal women? Sleep impacts belly fat for many reasons, including:

  • Hormonal Regulation: Sleep helps to regulate various hormones, particularly leptin and ghrelin, that influence appetite, metabolism, and fat storage. Insufficient sleep can disrupt the balance of these hormones.
  • Insulin Sensitivity: Poor sleep can lead to insulin resistance, making it harder to regulate blood sugar levels.
  • Cortisol Production: Sleep deprivation and stress can increase cortisol production, a stress hormone. Elevated cortisol levels can promote fat storage in the stomach.
  • Late-Night Eating: People who stay up late are likelier to snack on unhealthy foods at night.
  • Reduced Physical Activity: Fatigue from lack of sleep can lower the motivation to exercise, which is essential for preventing weight gain.
  • Slower Metabolism: With age, metabolism slows down, making it easier to gain weight and more challenging to lose. Menopausal women may find it harder to maintain their weight and body composition.
  • Loss of Muscle Mass: A decrease in muscle mass can further decrease metabolism and make it easier to gain weight.
  • Genetics: Genetics can also affect where an individual stores fat. Some people may have a genetic predisposition to accumulate fat in the abdominal area.

Losing Belly Fat During Menopause

Getting rid of belly fat during menopause can be challenging, requiring changes to diet, exercise, and lifestyle. While it can be harder to lose belly fat during menopause due to hormonal changes and metabolic shifts, it is not impossible. Here are some strategies to help menopausal women reduce belly fat:

  • Balanced Diet: Try eating fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats. Reduce or eliminate processed foods and sugary snacks and beverages.
  • Portion Control: Decrease portion sizes to avoid overeating by using smaller plates to help control portion. Pay attention to hunger and fullness cues to prevent unnecessary snacking.
  • Hydration: Drink plenty of water daily to stay hydrated and help control appetite.
  • Regular Exercise: Cardiovascular exercises, such as jogging or swimming, and strength training should be incorporated into any fitness routine to help burn calories, reduce overall body fat, and build or maintain muscle mass. This can help improve the appearance of your abdominal area.
  • Consistency:  Try to create a sustainable routine that you can stick to over the long term.
  • Stress Management:  Meditation, yoga, or deep breathing exercises help control cortisol levels, which can contribute to abdominal fat.
  • Adequate Sleep: Quality sleep is essential for regulating hormones and metabolism. A consistent sleep schedule can help. Create a comfortable sleep environment that is conducive to rest. Avoid stimulants like caffeine or electronic devices before bedtime.

By prioritizing sleep, women can help regulate hunger and fullness hormones and help reduce the likelihood of gaining excess belly fat. Achieving or maintaining a healthy weight is a multifaceted process, and if you're struggling to manage belly fat or if you have concerns about hormonal changes during menopause, consider consulting a healthcare provider. Dr. Aggarwal advises, "Women should know that sleep disturbances are common and something they may need to discuss with their health care team."


Brooke Aggarwal, EdD, MS, FAHA is an Assistant Professor of Medical Sciences in the Division of Cardiology, Department of Medicine at Columbia University Irving Medical Center.