Editorial: Lack of Sleep May Be Making You Fat


Sleep deprivation may cause people to eat more calories.

Sleeping at work

Sleeping at work

Sleep is so critical for good health.  In the past, most of the research investigated the behavioral health impact of poor sleep.  Over the past 10-15 years, the amount of research done on the physical and metabolic effect of poor sleep have been steadily increasing, and the evidence is growing to support the theory that poor sleep may be a significant influence on not only obesity but also overeating.  

A study performed at King’s College of London looked at 11 prior studies on this topic through a meta-analysis.  The results of this analysis were published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition.  The studies that were analyzed looked at sleep restrictions and their effect on eating and energy expenditure.  The researchers found that there was no effect on expenditure but a net gain of 385 calories a day in increased consumption.  

Weight loss and maintenance is not a complicated concept.  You must have a calorie or energy balance to maintain a healthy weight.  To lose, you will have to keep a negative balance.  Unlike your checking account, a negative balance is a good thing for weight loss.  For most of us, we maintain a positive balance which means that we are saving calories for a drought that is likely never coming.  

The bottom line:  Chronic sleep deprivation increases both stress and the hormones cortisol and ghrelin so it makes sense that you would eat more because we use food consumption to reduce stress and the hormones cortisol and ghrelin makes us hungry.  If chronic sleep deprivation continued to cause increased calorie intake of 350 calories a day for ten days, you would gain 1 pound every ten days that you have poor sleep.  If you look at the US Army’s Performance Triad (Exercise, Nutrition, and Sleep), you can see that sleep in important for performance.  Perhaps, it is equally important for weight loss and maintenance.

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About the Author

I am a family physician who has served in the US Army. In 2016, I found myself overweight, out of shape, and unhealthy, so I made a change to improve my health. This blog is the chronology of my path to better health and what I have learned along the way.

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