Can Sleep Loss Lead to Weight Gain?

Peter Russell

May 22, 2017

Poor sleep may make us more likely to eat more and gain weight, according to preliminary research results.

Swedish scientists say poor sleep quality and fewer hours in bed can stimulate production of a hormone that makes us feel hungry.

They say it can also affect the way the body generates energy from food.

Modern Living

An increasing number of people are encountering sleep problems in our modern, 24/7 world. A number of studies have focused on how sleep loss can affect the body's ability to metabolise energy.

Christian Benedict from Uppsala University, who led the study, says the underlying cause of increased obesity risk from sleep disruption remains unclear, although it could be caused by changes in appetite, metabolism, motivationm physical activity, or a combination of factors.

He and his group have made a number of studies into the effect on energy metabolism caused by sleep loss. "Following sleep loss, normal-weight men prefer larger food portions, seek more calories, exhibit signs of increased food-related impulsivity, experience more pleasure from food, and expend less energy," he tells us.

Hunger Hormones

The latest findings, presented at the European Congress of Endocrinology in Lisbon, suggest that sleep loss seems to favour hormones that make us feel hungry.

"Our studies also indicate that sleep loss shifts the hormonal balance from hormones that promote fullness (satiety), such as the intestinal hormone glucagon-like peptide 1, to those that promote hunger, such as the stomach hormone ghrelin," says Christian Benedict.

Sleep restriction also increased levels of endocannabinoids, which are also linked to appetite, the findings suggest.

The researchers say that sleep loss also affects the balance of gut bacteria, which has been widely implicated as key for maintaining how our bodies process food into energy.

Other Health Factors

According to Mr Benedict: "My studies suggest that sleep represents an important pillar of metabolic health, including weight maintenance.

"However, it must be borne in mind that our health depends on an interplay of a variety of modifiable factors (e.g. exercise, diet, regular health checks) and non-modifiable factors (e.g. your genes), and not only sleep. In other words, sleeping about 7 hours, as recommended by sleep experts, won’t benefit your health if your lifestyle is otherwise a mess."

The study results should be treated with caution as they have yet to be published in a peer-reviewed journal.