Does Lack of Sleep Make You Fatter?

by Dan DeFigio

When people low on sleep find their energy dropping, many turn to food for a pickup because a short-term rise in blood sugar levels gives a more energetic feeling.

A lack of sleep changes hormone levels and promotes weight gain. A shortage of sleep has been linked to higher insulin levels – a condition known as insulin resistance, or “pre-diabetes”. Since excess insulin promotes fat storage, extra insulin makes weight loss more difficult.

Furthermore, the most appealing foods when we feel low on energy are often sweets or refined carbohydrates with low nutrient density, like cookies. Since sleep deprivation promotes insulin resistance, overeating these types of carbohydrates worsens the problem.

Tired people may burn fewer calories, too, because they move around less and are often too fatigued to exercise. Or if they do manage to exercise, they work out less intensely than usual.

In a Japanese study, children sleeping less than eight hours a night were almost three times as likely to be overweight.

The University of Chicago Medical Center reported in an issue of The Lancet that cutting sleep from 8 hours down to 4 hours each night produced striking changes that resembled the effects of the early stages of diabetes after less than one week.

“We found that the metabolic and endocrine changes resulting from a significant sleep debt mimic many of the hallmarks of aging,” said Eve Van Cauter, PhD, professor of medicine at the University of Chicago and director of the study. “We suspect that chronic sleep loss may not only hasten the onset but could also increase the severity of age-related ailments such as diabetes, hypertension, obesity and memory loss.”

Sleep loss is associated with an excessive increase in appetite. This is because the regulation of leptin, a hormone released by the fat cells that signals satiety to the brain and thus suppresses appetite, is markedly dependent on sleep duration.

In conclusion, the research shows that lack of adequate sleep increases appetite, decreases activity, increases insulin resistance, and increases the release of stress hormones. This combination of factors promotes fat storage and makes it difficult to lose weight.

Need help getting better sleep? See Dan DeFigio’s tips for sleeping better.