More reminders that those wanting to control their weight might want to sleep more

I came across this report recently of a study which found that stopping men sleeping for a night led to them choosing bigger portions of ‘energy-dense’ food at a buffet [1]. Previous work from the same group at Uppsala University in Sweden found that sleep deprivation caused greater activity in the parts of the brain linked to the desire to eat in response to being shown pictures of food [2].

It’s become clear over the years, I think, that cutting back on sleep has the potential to drive weight gain through more than one mechanism. Certainly, there is some evidence that depriving ourselves of sleep can make us hungrier. It also, by the way, gives us more opportunity to eat.

Lack of sleep can also cause people to be more fatigued, which may reduce the amount of energy they expend eat day. This might further tip the scales in favour in weight gain.

Sleep deprivation has also been shown in studies to promote ‘insulin resistance’ – a state where insulin is not doing it’s job properly and both insulin levels and blood sugar levels can rise. As insulin is a chief fat storage hormone, this mechanism might also promote weight gain.

Another potential effect of sleep deprivation is to raise levels of the stress hormone cortisol. In excess, this hormone promotes the deposition of fat (particularly around the midriff) and, at the same time, promotes the breakdown of muscle. Even if weight were not to change as a result, clearly this may have a negative impact on body composition.

All-in-all, the evidence suggests that getting adequate amounts of sleep will assist weight control and have other benefits for health. Some people wonder where they will find the time for more sleep. Well, sleeping in is usually not an attractive option in the week when there’s work to do and kids to get to school etc. So, getting into bed earlier is often the only really viable option. This can mean being quite disciplined about one’s engagement with sleep thieves such as TV-watching. This can not only encroach on sleep time, but can also lead to use eating more. I wrote about this here.


1. Hogenkamp PS, et al. Acute sleep deprivation increases portion size and affects food choice in young men. Psychoneuroendocrinology (in press)

2. Benedict C, et al. Acute sleep deprivation enhances the brain’s response to hedonic food stimuli: an fMRI study. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2012;97(3):E443-7.

12 Responses to More reminders that those wanting to control their weight might want to sleep more

  1. Gary Conway 21 February 2013 at 11:11 am #

    Ditched the TV licence in November. It’s amazing how much earlier you are ready to sleep when you take away the distractions and listen to your body.

  2. Lorraine 21 February 2013 at 4:16 pm #

    Sleep is really important in so many ways. I like the term “Sleep Thieves”. Reading before bed really helps me sleep.

  3. Lori 21 February 2013 at 5:14 pm #

    I have a fireplace DVD that’s relaxing and helps me go to bed earlier.

  4. Shamira 22 February 2013 at 9:18 am #

    Totally agree about ditching the TV! It’s been a year now, and I’ve noticed that I sleep better and longer, and actually feel rested when I wake up.

  5. Simon Marr 22 February 2013 at 10:05 am #

    I’ve been reading about the numerous ways alcohol disrupts sleep eg. at key times needed for muscle repair. Am trying to go alcohol free during the week.

  6. Jackie G. 22 February 2013 at 10:39 am #

    I understand the connection between sleep and weight and it’s a constant battle to keep my weight under control, particularly around the midriff. The problem is that for many years I’ve slept until around 2.00am but after that I’m awake on and off (mostly off) for the rest of the night. I have tried everything that’s suggested by the experts, from an uncluttered bedroom to camomile tea. No matter what time I go to bed and how physically active my day has been, I can’t sleep and I’m tired all day. I’m reluctant to try sleeping tablets.

  7. Simon Shorrock 22 February 2013 at 7:42 pm #

    The iPad has a lot to answer for. I do most of my research using my iPad and sometimes I’m on it into the wee small hours without feeling tired. I’m often shattered the following afternoon. The evenings I leave it alone are the times I have my most restful sleep.

  8. Gail Singh 23 February 2013 at 1:30 am #

    Jackie G.

    Try Oil Pulling. it is very effective if done two to three times a day, especiallly before sleeeping.
    You will also derive many other benifits by practicing oil pulling. There are many sites on the
    internet you can learn from.

  9. Dr. Bill Wilson 23 February 2013 at 10:21 pm #

    The relationship between food and sleep is rather complex. As this article points out, lack of sleep can promote fat storage through several mechanisms. Moving in the other direction, what you eat can influence the quality of your sleep and also add to fat storage.

    Studies have shown that high carbohydrate meals before bedtime can shorten the time it takes to fall asleep but over time high carbohydrate diets can have an adverse affect on brain function, interfering with high quality sleep. Those who develop insulin resistance from eating high carbohydrate diets loaded with sugar and refined grains often seem to have low levels of serotonin in their brains and of course the sleep hormone melatonin comes from serotonin. High carbohydrate diets are also associated with excessive body fat accumulation.

    In my experience the best way to get a good night’s sleep is to eat a low carbohydrate, moderate protein, high fat (healthy fats) diet made up of whole foods. This type of diet will help to ensure healthy brain function, making it much more likely that you will experience high quality sleep.

  10. Melissa 2 March 2013 at 1:09 am #

    When I get less sleep I have noticed I do eat more, I thought this was because my body needs more energy to stay awake.


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