Weight gain is blamed, rightly or wrongly, on a lot of things—from overeating and under-exercising to environmental triggers and genetics. An often overlooked factor may be your sleep habits, with growing evidence linking too little shut-eye with weight gain. Now an analysis of 11 intervention trials involving a total of 172 people, published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, lends more weight to the idea: It found that not getting enough sleep led to overeating the next day.
In each of the studies, participants were either restricted in their sleep time (3.5 to 5.5 hours per night) or got their usual rest (7 to 12 hours). Those who were sleep-deprived had a net gain of 385 calories a day, on average (they ate more and didn’t expend more energy), compared to the control groups.
How sleep affects eating behavior
By disrupting the body’s internal clock, sleep deprivation may affect appetite hormones, notably leptin and ghrelin, as well as insulin, leading to increased hunger and food intake, decreased calorie burning, and increased fat storage. Or, as was demonstrated in a prior study, sleep-deprived people may experience changes in activation of the reward center of their brain, which causes them to seek more food.
The studies did not look at long-term sleep deprivation (most were just 1 to 14 days), actual weight gain, or whether increasing sleep can help prevent obesity. But as the researchers concluded, “sleep may be a potential novel target for weight management in addition to physical activity and dietary management.”
Bottom line: If you’re finding it difficult to lose excess weight (or want to not gain weight), it can’t hurt to try to get more sleep, especially since adequate sleep is so important for many other health reasons. Of course, for many people who are sleep-deprived, getting more zzz’s is a luxury they don’t have (or can’t afford to have), or the effort is hindered by sleep problems or medical issues. But for others, finding more time for sleep may simply be a matter of making some lifestyle changes.