When We Don’t Sleep Enough, We Eat Too Much: Here’s Why


Many have long-suspected that lack of sleep leads to unhealthy eating habits and weight gain. A new study published in the journal SLEEP is helping to explain exactly why this is the case.

Linking Sleep to Appetite

Researchers at the University of Chicago determined that 14 individuals who were sleep-deprived consumed almost 1,000 calories by snacking in the early evening, compared to the 600 they consumed after a full night’s sleep. The participants also ate twice as much fat while sleep-deprived.

The study concluded that when deprived of sleep, the individuals’ endocannabinoid system went into overdrive, causing eating motivated by pleasure, rather than hunger. The endocannabinoid system is composed of lipids, which can be measured in the blood. It is also triggered in individuals who smoke marijuana and is thought to be the reason behind the “munchies,” when people eat treats or food while high.

During the study, individuals slept in a laboratory setting and had four nights of eight and a half hours of sleep, along with four nights with four and a half hours of sleep. Their average endocannabinoid levels were the same over the 24 hours following each night’s sleep, but peak levels were raised later in the day after shortened sleep.

How Lack of Sleep Affects Your Body

Researchers tied lack of sleep to a host of negative behaviors and physical consequences such as:

  • An increased risk of type 2 diabetes
  • Memory loss and difficulty with alertness and focus
  • Weakened immunity
  • Increased impulsiveness and a propensity for risk-taking and addictive behavior
  • Intake of unhealthy food

Study participants reported feelings of hunger and a stronger desire to eat, corresponding to the late-day increase in endocannabinoid levels. The research team does not believe that the endocannabinoid system is the only factor leading to increased eating after sleep-deprivation, but do believe it to be a contributing factor.

Sleep Loss and Weight Gain

Previous studies have linked sleep-deprivation to a decrease in the hormone leptin, which keeps hunger in check, and increases in ghrelin, which spurs on hunger. Some studies have found that being awake longer leads to increased energy expenditure, which leads to a need for more food, but the calories consumed by sleep-deprived individuals exceeds this need, which results in weight gain.

Whether those who ate the same food when sleep-deprived would actually weigh the same if they got enough sleep is unknown; however, a 2010 study that was published in the Annals of Internal Medicine indicates that dieters lost less fat mass and more lean body mass while sleep-deprived. Other studies have found that the resting metabolic rate is lower in the morning after sleep-deprivation and also that glucose tolerance decreases with a lack of slow-wave sleep, increasing the risk for Type 2 diabetes.

Continued Research

Before sleep recommendations can be formally built into medical weight-loss programs, more research must be conducted. The University of Chicago researchers are now in their second year of a five-year federally funded study to determine if extending sleep by an hour and a half per day for overweight adults will lead to weight loss. Conversely, researchers are also studying how what we eat affects the quality and amount of sleep that we get each night.

If you are suffering from sleep-deprivation, there are solutions available to help you sleep better. Many people are consistently tired because of a sleep condition, such as sleep apnea. Lack of sleep can impact your lifestyle and your health and you don’t have to live with this problem. The team at eos sleep will work with you to develop a personalized treatment plan so that you can sleep better. Schedule an appointment with us today to learn more and start your journey toward quality sleep.

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.01  Meet Dr. David O. Volpi, MD
.02  Discuss your sleep issues & what we need to achieve
.03  Learn about our plan to get you a good night’s rest

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