Many studies from different countries and different age groups consistently prove that sleep issues are strongly linked to increased body weight and obesity.

Sleep deprivation and insomnia change hormonal balance, increase appetite, impair glucose metabolism and energy consumption, leading to weight management problems.

Getting sufficient sleep should be an essential part of any weight management program. Sleep problems and insomnia increase the risk of diabetes, high blood pressure, depression and heart disease. All these health conditions can also contribute to increased body weight.


Sleep Deprivation and its effect on Body Weight

The link between sleep deprivation and body weight is explained with the following biological mechanisms:


1. Leptin and Ghrelin Affects Appetite and Food Intake

The signals from the brain regulate the hormones of leptin and ghrelin – the hunger and appetite hormones. When the brain doesn’t get enough sleep, the balance of ghrelin and leptin gets disrupted. Sleeping fewer than 6 hours reduces leptin levels, which increases your appetite. Decreased ghrelin levels stimulate hunger which also leads to increased food intake after poor sleep. 


2. Increased Resistance to Insulin Which Could Later Lead to Diabetes

Sleep deprivation also creates resistance to insulin hormone leading to increased blood sugar and decreased energy production. As a response to increased sugar, even more insulin is released, and fat storage begins as a response to increased insulin. This whole process leads to fat buildup and could eventually lead to diabetes.


3. Increased in Cortisol Levels Resulting in Stress

When you don’t sleep enough, your body produces the stress hormone - cortisol. Higher cortisol levels make you more stressed out, which makes your appetite control more difficult. Not only does cortisol affect centers in your brain that make you want to eat more food, but it can also inhibit the breakdown of fat for energy.


4. Inadequate Levels of Growth Hormone Production

Most of the growth hormone (GH) production in the brain happens during your sleep. GH helps burn fat. GH also repairs and builds muscles so you can lose weight by preserving muscle strength. Sleep deprivation and insomnia lead to inadequate GH levels, making it more difficult for your body to build muscle, recover from exercise and utilize fatty acids as fuel.


5. Amygdala and Your Craving for High-Calorie Foods

Sleep problems increase activity in the amygdala, a small area in the brain that can make you crave high-calorie or very fatty and salty foods. The urge to eat junk foods becomes stronger. When sleep-deprived, you simply don’t have the mental clarity to decide regarding the foods you want to avoid.

Research shows that lack of sleep causes your brain to be less resistant to the temptation of junk foods, excess calorie intake, and foods you don’t eat in normal conditions. A single night of sleep deprivation is enough to impair activity in the frontal lobe that controls food-related decision-making. It becomes much easier to go through compulsive eating when you’re sleep-deprived.

Sleep deprivation brings a constant hunger feeling, resulting in the consumption of bigger portions. You choose the calorie-rich food associated with weight gain while the body has trouble using fat as an energy source. Instead, muscles are used, leading to weakness and a sedentary lifestyle over time.


Obesity Among Adolescent and Young Children

The total daily sleep hours are strongly correlated with the severity of obesity in both adults and young children. Poor sleep and obesity are rapidly increasing among adolescents and young children and subject to many recent types of research. Obese children and teenagers are more likely to develop insulin resistance, high blood pressure, cardiac and metabolic risks in their older age. Studies also show that sleep duration rather than sleep timing is associated with adolescent obesity.


Build Long-Term Health While You Sleep

According to one study, with the participants under the same weight loss diet, the sleep-deprived group experienced 55% less fat loss than the well-slept group. They also felt significantly hungrier, had less satisfaction after meals, and lacked enough energy to exercise.

Short sleep duration was significantly associated with central obesity, which brings more severe risks. Body mass index (BMI) and central obesity (calculated from waist circumference) are the parameters for determining the severity of weight problems and are found higher in the sleep-deprived group.

Sleep should be a priority if you want to live healthily and manage weight at any age. Your body is at work using energy even when you’re sleeping. An average person burns 38 calories/hour during sleep. Seven to nine hours of sleep is required for optimal health. When we sleep, we give our bodies the chance to burn as much as 300 extra calories. You can’t deny that without getting enough sleep every night, you can’t successfully manage your body weight.


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Author: Tina Ureten, MD, RDMS, RDCS  


Sleep Duration Rather than Sleep Timing is Associated with Obesity in Adolescents

The impact of sleep deprivation on food desire in the human brain

Lack of sleep is linked to obesity, new evidence shows

Poor Sleep and Obesity: Concurrent Epidemics in Adolescent Youth

Why Sleep Is Important for Weight Loss

Insomnia symptoms and sleep duration and their combined effects in relation to associations with obesity and central obesity

Sleep and muscle recovery: endocrinological and molecular basis for a new and promising hypothesis.

Age and sex differences in the association between sleep duration and general and abdominal obesity at 6-year follow-up: The Rural Chinese Cohort Study