Sleep Loss and Weight Gain — How It Works

One of the hallmarks of a good theory is that it defines a mechanism that makes the theory work. Understanding the “why” is critical.ben_franklin

If you ask most nutritionists, you’ll probably hear about how important good sleep habits are to health. You might hear that sleep is important to managing weight and that people who are well rested aren’t as hungry.

Now we are starting to get the rest of the story. A team of researchers at Upsala University (Sweden) have developed a body of research about the impact on short and interrupted sleep on the body.

The behavioural data reveal that metabolically healthy, sleep-deprived human subjects prefer larger food portions, seek more calories, exhibit signs of increased food-related impulsivity, experience more pleasure from food, and expend less energy.

How does this happen? Sleep loss . . .

  • Shifts the hormonal balance from hormones that promote fullness, such as GLP-1, to those that promote hunger, such as ghrelin.
  • Increases levels of endocannabinoids, which promote appetite.
  • Alters the balance of gut bacteria, which has been widely implicated as key for maintaining a healthy metabolism.
  • Reduces sensitivity to insulin (management of blood sugar levels).

The researchers want to conduct longer duration studies to assess long term effects of sleep loss. In the mean time, they’ve given us an initial assessment of what happens.

If you’re in a situation in which you can’t get adequate sleep, then you need to control carefully what you eat to offset these effects to the extent possible. You may want to consult a doctor or nutritionist about specific steps you should take.

Sources:  European Society of Endocrinology. “Sleep loss affects your waistline.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 22 May 2017. <>.


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