Skimp on Sleep, Take on Weight

Sleep deprivation increases daily caloric intake, King's College London research found.


Sleep deprivation can be miserable. It can make a workday drag on forever and even a fun event seem like a struggle. And unfortunately, it doesn’t stop there. New research suggests that sleep deprivation can actually cause weight gain.

A new review led by King’s College researchers found that a person who is dealing with sleep deprivation eats more calories throughout the day than they normally would, according to a press release issued by King’s College London.

This finding is especially important when considering the US is experiencing an obesity epidemic and one in three Americans don’t get enough sleep, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

“The main cause of obesity is an imbalance between calorie intake and expenditure and this study adds to accumulating evidence that sleep deprivation could contribute to this imbalance,” Gerda Pot, PhD, said in the press release. “So there may be some truth in the saying 'early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy and wise.”

Dr. Pot previously served as a research scientist and a member of the Medical Research Council for Human Nutrition Research at the University of Cambridge. She is now a lecturer for nutritional sciences at King's College London.

To conduct the meta-analysis, researchers combined the results of 11 small intervention studies with a total of 172 participants. The studies compared a partial sleep restriction intervention with an unrestricted sleep control and measured the participants’ calorie intake over 24 hours.

They found that sleep-deprived participants ingested an average of 385 more calories per day than participants who were not sleep-deprived. They also found that sleep-deprived participants were more likely to eat foods higher in fat and lower in protein. However, the carbohydrate intake didn’t change.

According to the press release, a previous study may explain the change in diet. The previous study found that partial sleep deprivation caused greater activation in brain regions associated with reward.

Researchers said another possible explanation is a disruption of the body’s internal clock which would affect leptin, a hormone that tells the body when it’s full, and ghrelin, a hormone that tells the body when it’s hungry.

Researchers said that future studies should focus on people who deal with long-term sleep deprivation and weight gain or obesity.

“Our results highlight sleep as a potential third factor, in addition to diet and exercise, to target weight gain more effectively,” lead author and PhD candidate, Haya Al Khatib, said in the press release. “We are currently conducting a randomized controlled trial in habitually short sleepers to explore the effects of sleep extension on indicators of weight gain.”

The full study is published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

The authors disclosed no financial information or conflicts of interest.