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Why Not Sleeping Enough Makes Some People Gain Weight

Regular readers of these pages will be well aware of the recent slew of evidence suggesting that not getting enough sleep is an important risk factor for weight gain (as anyone who works shifts probably knows from their own experience).

But, as always, not everyone appears to be equally affected.

A paper by Jean-Philippe Chaput and colleagues from the University of Ottawa, just published in SLEEP, suggests that sleep deprivation may especially tend to promote weight gain in people who tend to be disinhibited eaters.

Based on the examination of 276 adults aged 21 to 64 years and followed for 6 years in the Quebec Family Study, Chaput and colleagues found that individuals having both short sleep duration (loss than 6 hours a night) and high disinhibition eating behaviour (as assessed by the three factor eating questionnaire) were more likely to gain weight and increase their abdominal circumference over time.

In contrast, short-duration sleepers with a low disinhibition eating behavior trait had the same weight trajectory as those with average sleep duration.

Over the 6-year follow-up period, the incidence of overweight/obesity for short-duration sleepers with a high disinhibition eating behavior trait was 2.5 times more frequent than for short-duration sleepers with a low disinhibition eating behavior trait.

This increased risk of high disinhibition in short-duration sleepers was largely explained by higher caloric intake.

For those of us still dealing with leftovers from yesterday’s turkey, getting enough sleep may help with any ‘disinhibition’ we may experience when opening the refrigerator.

Edmonton, Alberta

Chaput JP, Després JP, Bouchard C, & Tremblay A (2011). The Association between Short Sleep Duration and Weight Gain Is Dependent on Disinhibited Eating Behavior in Adults. Sleep, 34 (10), 1291-7 PMID: 21966060


  1. I would be very interested to know what exactly the researchers mean by “high disinhibition eating behaviour”.

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  2. I was thinking the same thing, NewMe. Not only are the eating behavior categories vague, they’re confusing. I had to read through them a second time to clarify. “High disinhibition” apparently means “uninhibited” and “low disinhibition” means “inhibited.” However, that doesn’t explain much.

    Natural eaters tend to gain weight when they’re not getting enough sleep? It’s possible. Food gives you a burst of energy, and that can help if you’re tired. If someone is a doctor on call (for example), then they may need that blood sugar boost in order to think clearly when they’re tired. I mean, if avoiding weight gain is your number one priority, then I guess you’d want to avoid eating because you’re tired. If maximizing performance is on top, then it may be unavoidable. Oh course, getting enough sleep would be best.

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  3. I think I’ve come across the term disinhibition in connect with eating disorders before.
    Sometimes they contrast disinhibited eaters with restrained eaters. Basically if you are completely disinhibited you eat whatever you feel like eating, whenever you feel like eating. If you are a restrained / low disinhibition eater, you analyze and say to yourself things like “shouldn’t take too big a serving of those mashed potatoes” or “can’t have a snack yet, it’s only been an hour since lunch” or “doughnuts are so fattening, I’d like one but I shouldn’t have any”.

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