Can lack of sleep contribute to obesity?

Share This Post

I don’t believe that the best way for people to lose weight is to consciously restrict how much they eat. I have no issue with people eating less, I just believe that, for the best results, it needs to be done in a way that is both easy and sustainable. For the most part an essential component here is a regime that does not induce undue hunger. My preference is generally for a carbohydrate controlled diet ‘primal’ diet. Such a diet will usually provide enough protein to keep the appetite sated, while allowing fat loss from fat tissues which can then ‘feed’ the body, thereby potentially quelling appetite through this mechanism too.

However, what we eat (and how much) is not the only lifestyle factor that can affect appetite. It’s been know for a long time that sleep has a role to play here. Studies have found that sleep deprivation can induce changes in hormones that regulate appetite. For example, sleep deprivation has been found to boost levels of the hormone ghrelin – a hormone that stimulates appetite. Sleep deprivation can also lower levels of the hormone leptin. This is not good, seeing as leptin not only suppresses appetite, but also speeds the metabolism.

I was interested to read of a study recently which tested the effect of sleep deprivation on appetite ratings in response to images of food [1]. In this study, individuals were tested on separate occasions after either a night or normal sleep, or total sleep deprivation the previous evening. Overall, subjective feelings of hunger were significantly greater after the night of sleep deprivation. The study subjects underwent brain scanning too (functional magnetic resonance imaging). After a night of sleep deprivation, there was enhanced activity in a part of the brain known as the anterior cingulate cortex. This structure, among other things, influences our sense of appetite and hunger. The increased appetite ratings and activity in the anterior cingulate cortex were seen after a night of sleep deprivation, despite the fact that blood sugar levels were the same as after a good night’s sleep.

What this study provides is further objective evidence that a lack of sleep might drive a tendency to overeat. For some people, therefore, it may make sense to ensure adequate sleep if the goal is to attain and maintain a healthy weight.


1. Benedict C, et al. Acute Sleep Deprivation Enhances the Brain’s Response to Hedonic Food Stimuli: An fMRI Study. J Clin Endocrinol Metab 2012 Jan 18. [Epub ahead of print]

More To Explore

Walking versus running

I recently read an interesting editorial in the Journal of American College of Cardiology about the relative benefits of walking and running [1]. The editorial

We uses cookies to improve your experience.