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Can Being Deprived of Sleep Cause Weight Issues?

May 2011

Karen Ensle EdD, RD, FADA, CFCS
Family & Community Health Sciences Educator
Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Union County

Does sleep deprivation really lead to unhealthy eating choices and decreased exercise? And does that outcome can lead to weight gain over time? This question has recently come up in the science and nutrition communities.

We all know the mantra: eat right and exercise to lose weight. It can be very tiring to find the time to prepare healthy meals and carve out some time to spend on physical activity or working out. Plus, you still have work, family and a life to live, right?

When we get busy, we tend to spend less time sleeping because we are trying to fit everything in. This may not only be unhealthy, but could also be counterproductive to maintaining or losing weight. How? Sleep deprivation causes an increase in appetite, often for unhealthy food choices, and decreases a person’s metabolism, which means an increase in fat storage and weight gain.

If you don’t get enough sleep, you may feel more sluggish and not always think clearly, which may affect your food selection. This can lead to a vicious cycle of eating more and feeling more run down, which decreases the motivation to exercise. These two factors lead to weight gain! Recent research has found a strong relationship between sleep and weight loss.

A review published in Best Practice & Research found that multiple studies observed an association between short sleep duration of generally less than six hours per night with an increase in body-mass index. Also noted was an increase in obesity, diabetes, and hypertension.¹ Another review, published in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, found multiple epidemiologic studies that have shown an association between short sleep periods and higher body-mass index, as well as, a causative role of short sleep in the increased risk of diabetes.²

Recently, research from a study conducted at Columbia University found that well-rested participants consumed an average of 296 calories less than when they were sleep-deprived. And women ate an average of 31g more fat per day when they were sleep-deprived.³

Start taking the time to eat healthy food, exercise daily, and take small steps to improve your health. Stop trying to be wonder woman/man and get your Zzzzzz’s! Determine what time you want to make it to bed every night, and stick to it! You’ll notice a huge difference in your energy and motivation, which can lead to healthier food choices including consuming more fruits, veggies, whole grains, fat-free dairy, and lean protein. AND, don’t forget to spend at least 30 or more minutes a day exercising!

¹Knutson. K. “Sleep Duration and Caridometabolic Risk: A Review of the Epidemological Evidence.” Best Practice & Research (2010); 24(5); 731-43.

² Knutson, K., V. Cauter. “Associations Between Sleep Loss and Increased Risk of Obesity and Diabetes.” Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences (2008); 1129; 287-304.

³ St-Onge. M. Normal Weight Adults Eat More After Sleeping Less.” [paper presented at American Heart Association conference, Atlanta, Georgia. March 22-25, 2011].