Sunday, May 6, 2012

Does Sleep Play a Role in Weight Gain and Weight Control?

Weight Gain and Sleep Patterns - Photo by Ed Yourdon at Wikimedia Commons
Can sleep play a role in patterns of gradual, long-term weight gain? According to several studies, getting an appropriate amount of sleep tends to be associated with less weight gain over time. Both long-term lack of sleep and sleeping more than a normal amount of time seem to have an association with long-term weight gain.

Sleeping Too Little or Too Much Associated With Weight Gain

According to a 2011 New England Journal of Medicine study on long-term, gradual weight trends, people may be less likely to gain weight if they average sleeping six to eight hours in a 24-hour period. Those who tended to sleep less than six hours and those who averaged sleeping more than eight hours tended to gain more weight over time.

An article in the Journal of Sleep Research found that women (ages 40 to 60) who gained 5 kg or more in a five to seven year period tended to either have short or long sleep durations, but men studied did not have the same correlation. A study published in the International Journal of Obesity & Related Metabolic Disorders found that only previously obese women tended to have weight gain associated with eating at night.

Sleep Cycle and Circadian Rhythms and Weight Gain - Photo by ceridwen at Wikimedia Commons
Less Sleep May Lead to Long-Term Weight Gain

One might think that less sleep would indicate that people are more active and have a higher metabolism; however, the Journal of Medicine study cited the following possible contributing factors for weight gain in those who tended to sleep less than six hours:
  • Less sleep is associated with altered leptin and ghrelin.
  • Those who stay up may feel subjectively hungry.
  • Late-night snacks often include high-calorie and/or refined-carbohydrate foods.
Additional studies have linked sleep deprivation with obesity. Exposure to light may seem to reset the body's natural circadian rhythm. Appetite regulation seems to become more difficult for those who get inadequate sleep, and people may find it more difficult to lose fat when experiencing long-term sleep deprivation.

Too Much Sleep May Lead to Weight Gain

Sleeping more than eight hours was associated with weight gain in the New England Journal of Medicine study. Obesity may be accompanied by obstructive sleep apnea, which is often associated with poor quality sleep, daytime sleepiness and/or narcolepsy. Sleep disturbances are sometimes associated with stress, which is another factor that seems to play a role in weight gain in some populations.

Some people tend to gain weight during winter months, which may be related to a number of factors such as holiday eating and fewer options for exercising outside, but longer nights and shorter days may also mean changes in sleep patterns and circadian rhythms.  Symptoms of seasonal affective disorder (SAD), also called winter depression, may appear when days are shorter. Although the average long-term weight gain during winter months tends to be approximately one pound per year, people who are already overweight were more likely to gain five pounds, according to an NIH article.

Sleep and Obesity - Is There a Connection? - Photo by Bill Branson (NCI) at Wikimedia Commons
Connecting Weight Gain and Altered Sleep Cycles

Weight gain is a complex issue with many contributing factors, one of which may be sleep cycles. Several studies have shown that people who get too little sleep and those who tend to sleep more than normal may be more likely to gain weight. Those who have sleep disturbances such as insomnia and hypersomnia may benefit from an assessment by a healthcare professional who may be able to discover a variety of reasons for sleep disturbances and help one achieve a more normal sleep cycle. Perhaps getting good quality sleep for six to eight hours on a regular basis may help one to lose or avoid unwanted pounds.

Readers may also wish to read Yawning During Exercise? The Possible Causes Might Surprise You. Find more of my articles at the Fit Tips 4 Life site map.


  • Environmental Health Perspectives January 2010 (vol. 118, issue 1) article by Angela Spivey "Lose Sleep, Gain Weight"
  •  International Journal of Obesity & Related Metabolic Disorders (October 2004, vol. 28) article by G.S. Anderson et. al. "Night eating and weight change in middle-aged men and women"
  • Journal of Sleep Research June 2011 (vol. 20, issue 2) article by Peppi Lyytikäinen "Association of sleep duration with weight and weight-gain: a prospective follow-up study."
  • National Institutes of Health March 22, 2000 article "Holiday Weight Gain Slight, But May Last A Lifetime
  • National Sleep Foundation online article "Depression and Sleep" accessed May 6, 2012
  • The New England Journal of Medicine June 23, 2011 article by Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian et. al. "Changes in Diet and Lifestyle and Long-Term Weight Gain in Women and Men"

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