Link Between Sleep Deprivation, Body Weight and Obesity

Link Between Sleep Deprivation, Body Weight and Obesity

Tina Ureten

Many studies from different countries and in different age groups consistently proved 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 a very important 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 the body weight is explained with the following biological mechanisms:


1. Leptin and Ghrelin affects Appetite and Food Intake

The signals from the brain regulates the hormones of leptin and ghrelin – the hunger and appetite hormones. When brain doesn’t get enough sleep the balance of ghrelin and leptin gets disrupted. Sleeping fewer than 6 hours reduces leptin level which increases your appetite. Decreased ghrelin level stimulates hunger which also leads to increased food intake after poor sleep. You could also be more susceptible to overeating.


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 leads to fat buildup and could eventually lead to diabetes.

 link between sleep and obesity

3. Increased in Cortisol levels resulting to Stress

When you don’t sleep enough, your body produces more stress hormone - cortisol. Higher cortisol level makes you more stressed out, which makes the appetite control more difficult. Not only does cortisol effect 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

The most of growth hormone (GH) production in the brain happens during your sleep. GH helps burn fat as well as repair and build muscles so you can lose weight with preserving muscles strength. Sleep deprivation and insomnia lead to inadequate GH level, which can make it more difficult for your body to build muscle, to recover from exercise and utilize fatty acids as a 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 highly rewarding foods become stronger. When sleep deprived, you simply don’t have the mental clarity to make decisions with regards to the foods you want to avoid.

It has also been shown in research 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 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 constant hunger feeling and you eat bigger portions. You choose the calorie rich food associated with weight gain while body has trouble using fat as energy source. Instead, muscles are used, leading to weakness and sedentary life style over the time.


Obesity among Adolescent and Young Children

obesity in adolecent and young children - sleeping teenager

The total of 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 adolescent and young children and being subject to many recent researches. Obese youth are more likely to develop insulin resistance, high blood pressure, cardiac and metabolic risks. It was also shown that the sleep duration rather than sleep timing is associated with adolescent obesity.


Build Long-Term Health while you Sleep

sleep and obesity - sleeping woman

According to one study, with the participants under being the same weight loss diet, sleep-deprived group experienced 55% less fat loss compared to 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 serious risks. Body mass index (BMI) and central obesity (calculated from waist circumference) are the parameters for determining the severity of weight problems and found higher with sleep deprived group.

In order to be healthy and lose weight at any age, sleep should be a priority. Your body is at work using energy even when you’re sleeping. An average person burns 38 calories/hour during the sleep. Seven to nine hours of sleep is required for optimal health, that means burning around 300 extra calories while sleeping. You can’t deny that without getting enough sleep every night, you can’t successfully manage your body weight.


Tina Ureten, MD, RDMS, RDCS  



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

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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