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Sleepless Nights May Lead to Extra Pounds

A new study indicates that not getting enough sleep increases appetite and leads to weight gain, due to hormonal shifts.

--by Jenara Nerenberg

The Gist

Those who wonder why their appetite increases after getting less sleep may feel vindicated to learn there are a variety of hormones at work, according to a new study published today in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. While the sleep-deprived may not be happy about the ensuing weight gain, they may feel better  knowing the increased hunger is not just in their heads. When a person is sleep-deprived, a hormone called ghrelin increases and another one called leptin decreases, both of which lead to increased hunger.

The solution? Get more sleep! This advice comes from the study authors after reviewing data collected over the past fifteen years.

The Expert Take

“Changes in these hormones coinciding with an energy-reduced diet paired with changes in response to partial sleep deprivation may be expected to increase ghrelin and decrease leptin concentrations even further to promote hunger,” says lead author Sharon M. Nickols-Richardson, PhD, MD. “Various investigations, although diverse, indicate an effect of partial sleep deprivation on body weight management."

The study points out that more than 35 percent of Americans are overweight, and more than 28 percent sleep less than six hours per night.

Not getting enough sleep on a regular basis can set off hormonal imbalances that lead to increased hunger, which then leads to an energy imbalance and weight gain. The only solution is to get more rest, though the authors point out that further research is needed to understand the exact mechanism whereby lack of sleep induces hormonal shifts and hunger changes.

The Takeaway

When you sleep less, you eat more—and when you eat more, you gain weight. So, if you're trying to lose weight or manage it, make sure you're getting enough rest (at least 8 hours per night). It's a simple yet effective way to help ensure you're on the right track to an optimal weight.

Source and Method

Researchers examined articles published between 1996 and 2011 that covered sleep deprivation, energy imbalance, and weight gain. They then constructed comparative tables to better understand the role that individual factors played in the published health outcomes—how the studies were conducted, caloric intake and expenditure, different demographics, and hormonal measurements.

Other Research

Sleep deprivation and weight gain have been linked in past studies, including the finding that shifts in ghrelin and leptin increase hunger. The American Journal of Epidemiology published a study in 2006 that found that over a 16-year period, women who were generally sleep deprived had a greater risk of weight gain or obesity.

In 2007, Sleep Medicine Reviews published a comprehensive study looking at the biological link between sleep deprivation and weight gain. The study also looked at how diabetes is related to sleep deprivation.

Finally, in 2008, the Journal of Sleep Research took an in-depth look at the hormone ghrelin, and found that just one night of sleep deprivation increases ghrelin levels and therefore hunger among otherwise healthy, non-obese men. 

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Tags: Awareness , Latest Studies & Research

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The Healthline Editorial team writes about the latest health news, policy, and research.