Weight Management

Sleep Deprivation Contributes to Obesity

Nathan Carr/ Fitness Coach
17 October, 2016

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There is nothing better than waking up after a great night sleep, fully energized and ready to take on the world. However, chronic sleep loss is common in modern society and in fact many people are suffering with the adverse health effects of habitual sleep deprivation.

Studies have shown that even short term restrictions in sleep may lead to a variety of adverse physiological effects, such as; obesity, diabetes, cancer, depression and Alzheimer’s to name a few.

For this article we’ll focus on obesity and its direct relationship with sleep deprivation.  In fact, studies have highlighted that people whom sleep less than 6 hours per night will lose less fat than people who sleep for 8 hours per night.

Recent studies estimate that the worldwide prevalence of obesity has more than doubled since 1980. Considering this global epidemic it’s important to highlight the strong evidence supporting the role of reduced sleep as a contributing factor.


Sleep deprivation will make you overeat by effecting two powerful hormones – ghrelin, which signals when you should eat and leptin which signals when you should stop eating.  Therefore, if you have adequate sleep you’re less likely to consume too many calories.

2.Energy Expenditure

Sleep loss could also affect energy balance by decreasing exercise and non-exercise energy expenditure.  As mentioned above sleep deprivation will increase energy intake through the consumption of too many calories and on the other hand, it is also conceivable that tiredness and fatigue will increase sedentary behavior and therefore decrease energy expenditure – however, more research needs to be done in this area.

3.Glucose Metabolism

Studies show that sleep restriction can drastically decrease the speed at which the body regulates blood sugar, this is largely due to the body being less sensitive to insulin in a sleep deprived state. Therefore more insulin is required in order to drop blood glucose levels. Overtime, this can lead to insulin resistance and ultimately, diabetes.

High levels of insulin in the blood for long periods of time will also reduce the breakdown of stored fat as insulin suppresses the enzymes in the fat cells that are responsible for breaking down body fat into fatty acids which are then ready to be burned.  In turn, elevated insulin levels in the blood could have a direct impact on obesity.


Sleep deprivation can cause the stress hormone (cortisol) to rise and remain high for prolonged periods, this can have a detrimental effect on your health.

However, we need cortisol to ensure that our body responds to stress and trauma effectively.  One of the initial actions of cortisol is to inhibit the responsiveness of cells to insulin allowing them to move from a storing (anabolic) state to a breakdown (catabolic) state.  Therefore, muscle tissues and body fat breakdown, elevating blood sugar and making energy readily available to combat trauma - this is all well and good considering the response is short lived.

However, in periods of chronic stress or sleep deprivation both cortisol and insulin levels can remain high which will force the body into fat storage mode and reduce the body’s ability to release fat from its stores.  However, lean mass will remain in a catabolic state, this will reduce the number of calories your body burns each day (Basal Metabolic Rate) and consequently lead to weight (fat) gain.

In conclusion, we know that a healthy balanced diet and regular exercise is necessary for effective weight management. However, it is becoming clearer that employing a healthy sleeping pattern (7-8 hours per night) has an important role in combating the obesity epidemic and improving overall health.



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