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Preventing Weight Gain in Your Sleep?

Regular readers of these pages will be well aware of the many studies that now show a close association between less sleep and weight gain.

In fact, a now often shown slide clearly documents, how steadily decreasing hours of sleep remarkably parallels the steady increase in obesity rates over the past decades.

In addition, substantial data from animal experiments clearly documents how sleep deprivation has profound obesogenic effects on appetite and metabolism.

So does getting more sleep protect against obesity or even help with weight loss?

This question was now addressed by Jean-Phillipe Chaput (CON Bootcamper) and colleagues at the University of Ottawa in a paper just published in the International Journal of Obesity.

The researchers analysed data from a 6-year longitudinal, observational study in adults aged 18-64 years.

Short-duration sleepers (<6 h per day; n=43) at baseline were divided into two groups: (i) those who increased their sleep duration to a ‘healthy’ length of 7-8 h per day at year 6 (mean increase: 1.52 h per day; n=23); and (ii) those who maintained their short sleep duration habits (mean change: -0.11 h per day; n=20).

While both groups had similar baseline characteristics, short-duration sleepers who maintained their short sleep duration experienced a greater increase in body mass index (BMI) (difference: 1.1) and fat mass (difference: 2.4 kg) over the 6-year follow-up period than short-duration sleepers who increased their sleep duration, even after adjustment for relevant covariates.

In contrast, there was no significant difference in adiposity measures between short-duration sleepers who increased their sleep duration and a control group of individuals who reported sleeping 7-8 h per day at both baseline and year 6 (n=173).

As the authors point out, this is the first longitudinal data suggesting that increasing sleep duration in individuals with short sleep duration is associated with a reduced risk of weight gain.

Clearly, it would perhaps now be time for a controlled trial of sleep intervention in short-sleepers with weight problems.

While it is unlikely that simply getting more sleep will lead to weight loss – remember, prevention of weight gain is the first sign of success.

I wonder if my readers notice any relationship between lack of sleep and their own propensity for weight gain.

Edmonton, Alberta

Chaput JP, Després JP, Bouchard C, & Tremblay A (2011). Longer sleep duration associates with lower adiposity gain in adult short sleepers. International journal of obesity (2005) PMID: 21654631


  1. I’ve noticed a connection, but I’ve also noticed a correlation between lack of sleep and eating behaviors. In other words, the more tired I am, the hungrier I “seem” to be, the more I eat, and the more I make poor food choices. So I can’t limit my experience to lack of sleep.

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  2. What I notice is that when I am tired, I eat more. I think it is related to wanting more energy. Carried over time, added weight can be expected.

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  3. Yes this is absolutely true in my case. During a 4 years period I gained 40 pounds because I barely managed to get 5 hours of sleep per night. When I started my weight management program I made of point of getting 8 hours. I believe this was part of my success in losing a substantial amount of weight. I will also comment that simply telling someone to get more sleep is not easy to accomplish, especially when a habit of night time reading or working on the computer has been established. I found it difficult to actually do this despite the fact there was nothing to prevent me from doing so. I felt shortchanged regarding , what I felt, were my productive hours of the day. That old adage of “sleeping the day away” comes to mind. It was just one more hurtle among many to overcome and stick with.

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  4. I do. I think sleep deprivation confuses my perception of the need for sleep with hunger. I find myself repeatedly eating during the day without having any real hunger, but just a feeling of needing to eat something. I also can’t maintain focus, concentration or much attention, and I think the misperception of hunger with inattention go hand in hand.

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  5. When I was fat I also suffered from insomnia, probably 150-200 nights per year. My method of loss and maintenance has included 45 – 75 minutes of exercise (running in the early days, now an aerobic/weights alternative that trains me at a comparable level to my running). On the days I exercise, I have no insomnia. On my time-off days I may.

    At the risk of sounding “inspirational” (something that makes me cringe in this Biggest Loser culture), I had a transforming experience in my early weight-loss days (autumn 2002). I had an odd night of insomnia, despite having exercised the prior day. After sweating, tossing, turning and not sleeping much, not sleeping deeply at all, I somehow was possessed to think a novel thought. Instead of thinking, “Gawd, I need my rest,” followed by continued time in the bed and NOT exercising, I said something else. “Okay, body, just because I’ve deprived you a good night’s rest, I will not further punish you by denying you your exercise.” I went to the YMCA, punched my program into the treadmill and started to go. Within ten minutes, the woozy fog that engulfs sleep-deprived people had lifted. I felt normal. I completed my regular (vigorous) exercise. That day at work, I felt normal and I accomplished as much as I would on any other well-slept day. I also didn’t eat any more than I normally would. That night, I slept like a brick. That was one of the biggest “eureka” moments of my life.

    Yoni keeps debating with some other muckity muck on the topic of forks v. feet in weight management. It may, actually, be feet v. pillow. Is it possible, Dr. S, that exercise suppresses ghrelin?

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  6. Hmmm. Or should I say, “Zzzzz.” No, I’m not bored by the discussion, just exhausted from chronic insomnia that has returned like an awful sitcom, first in reruns then syndication. This horrible way to live has returned after I thought I’d been rid of it forever, and it came back in response to enforced sedendary behavior after 2 surgeries; haven’t seen weight gain yet as a result but like others here it is easy to confuse hunger and fatigue signals–probably both linked hormonally as Debra suggests. I wasn’t even athletic, before, simply a daily walker–a pleasure seeker in the outdoors. I can feel depression lurking even as we “speak” hear, another offshoot of needing to remain mostly still for many months.

    So, yes, dear doctor. I know for me there is a complicated knot of connections between lack of sleep, eating signals, and inadequate movement. Now I’m going to go sit in the sunshine because, while it’s not the same as walking or sleeping, there is a certain reassurance in the natural world. Two hawks are nesting in a tree above me, and taking care to raise a little brood. Now that is pretty darn close to witnessing heaven.

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  7. When my autistic child was young, she only slept about 2 hours a night. Therefore I too only slept about 2 hours a night. Over two years I gained over 100 pounds. Exhaustion, sleep deprivation plus excessive stress equals weight gain. It has taken more than 20 years to lose 70 of those pounds. My doctor tells me that I need 9.5 hours a night to be at my best. I can only lose weight when I get at least 9 hours within a 24 hour period. Just my 2 cents.

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  8. Yes. I have narcolepsy and a circadian rhythm disorder. I don’t remember ever sleeping a “normal” amount, at least not all at once. But it does seem that that closer I get to balancing sleep, exercise, and food intake, the easier it all is (i.e., maintaining weight, and getting enough sleep, exercising, and eating well). It’s impossible to “fix” just one of those things without addressing them all.

    And I really miss Minnesota winters; it’s dark for so long each day north of the 45th parallel that it’s easier to get enough sleep. Summers on the other hand, exhaust me.

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  9. My sleep patterns recently became disrupted due to losing my job. As a result, I did notice myself eating more mainly because I was up more hours and therefore had an extra eating period. In other words, I was eating every 2 hours and there only more 2 hour periods in an 18 or 20 hour day than a 16 hour day.

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  10. I know what AA tells you, to avoid relapsing into alchohol; “never get too tired, or too hungry.”–meaning, of course, that imbalance there would very easily throw you into seeking a drink-and more. it’s true.

    I also noticed another big factor in my being overweight–being clinically depressed. during times when i was depressed, i could never lose weight unless i got the depression off me. then, the weight would just float off! A severe emotional state can REALLY affect your weight! ask a psychiatrist, they see this all the time. it’s because a depression SUPRESSES your energy. some very depressed people LOSE their appetite! they lose weight. but many un-diagnosed depressed people, often can’t keep the weight normal, or lose it. I see and know a lotta very heavy people, whom I happen to know,have bad emotional problems,and that contributes greatly.

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  11. Ok, I need to know how I can cure my sleep deprivation. I currently workout 5 to 6 days a week. DOes this combat a slow metabolism cased by Lack of sleep?

    I have the enviable luck that if after work i take a nap for an hour it recharges my body so well I have problems sleeping later at night. I then go work out and cant fall asleep until 2 am or not at all.Snooze alarmis hit constantly in the AM trying to get those few extra zzzzz’s.

    Situation2 I eat at work before I go to the gym for a few hours and still have the same problem at night sleeping or worse I fall asleep at 10pm wakeup at midnight, I rarely get back to sleep because my body feels recharged.

    My fat is all around my mid section. In fact I just had a Caloriemetric test done and at rest my body burns 2200 calorie to support my body functions at rest.

    It is very frustrating to burn 10,000 calories working out and have no results other than the muscles I have developed because of the excess working out. My Calorie intact is less than 3000 calories aday according to my Daily log tracker on line. Yet since I started tracking my my food in a journal I have gained 3 lbs.

    Feels like Im waisting my time at the gym and is driving me crazy.

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    • Tman: Exercise is not the most effective or even the most helpful way to lose weight – and evenings are absolutely the wrong time to exercise, especially if this interferes with your sleep. Trying to lose weight by burning calories is always a “losing” strategy – you should do just enough physical activity to ruin your appetite and feel better about yourself. Obesity is mainly a “calorie-in” problem not a “calorie-out” problem. You may do much better if you cut down the level of activity to a reasonable amount – and remember, just 20 mins of daily moderate to vigorous physical activity is pretty much all it takes to improve heart health.

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