Lack of Sleep and Weight Gain

A poor night’s sleep can leave you feeling foggy and drowsy throughout the day. In recent research, sleep deprivation has also been associated with higher risks of weight gain and obesity.

A group led by Drs. Erin Hanlon and Eve Van Cauter at the University of Chicago wanted to better understand how sleep and weight gain interact biologically.1 The researchers enrolled 14 healthy, non-obese people—11 men and 3 women—who were 18 to 30 years old. The participants were placed on a fixed diet and allowed either a normal 8.5 hours of sleep or a restricted 4.5 hours of sleep for 4 consecutive days. All participants underwent both sleep conditions in a controlled clinical setting, with at least 4 weeks in between testing. For both conditions, the researchers collected blood samples from the participants beginning the afternoon following the second night.

After dinner on the fourth night, the participants fasted until the next afternoon. They were then allowed to choose their own meals and snacks for the rest of the day. All food was prepared and served in the clinical setting. Under both sleep conditions, people consumed about 90% of their daily calories at their first meal. But when sleep-deprived, they consumed more and unhealthier snacks in between meals. 

Hanlon explains that if you see junk food and you’ve had enough sleep, you may be able to control some aspects of your natural response. “But if you’re sleep deprived, your hedonic drive for certain foods gets stronger, and your ability to resist them may be impaired. So, you are more likely to eat it. Do that again and again, and you pack on the pounds.”

It appears that maintaining a healthy weight is just one more good reason to get a good night’s sleep.


  1. Sleep Restriction Enhances the Daily Rhythm of Circulating Levels of Endocannabinoid 2-Arachidonoylglycerol. Hanlon EC, Tasali E, Leproult R, Stuhr KL, Doncheck E, de Wit H, Hillard CJ, Van Cauter E. Sleep. 2016 Mar 1;39(3):653-64. doi: 10.5665/sleep.5546. PMID: 26612385.
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