A Link Between Obesity and Sleep Deprivation? – Can it Affect Weight?

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Wait a second…

Can you lose weight just by getting enough sleep? We’d like to get on that program!

In all seriousness, with close to two-thirds of Americans tipping the scales into the overweight and obesity categories, we’re ready to try just about anything. And, considering that millions of Americans also suffer from various sleep-related disorders, it seems like a fairly logical conclusion that there could be a link between sleep and obesity.

Sleep is necessary to maintain healthy systems, whether it’s staying alert, avoiding sickness, healing injuries or even keeping a positive attitude. But can it affect how much you weigh? The science is clear, and the answer is a resounding yes. As if that wasn’t scary enough, the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) reports that the rise in childhood obesity is also partially blamed by a lack of sufficient shuteye.

With only one in four Americans getting the recommended number of hours per rest each night, it’s no wonder that obesity rates are skyrocketing!

In this article, we’ll explore all the ways that lack of proper bedtime can lead to weight gain. Hopefully, it’ll inspire you to go to bed at a reasonable hour tonight!

How It Affects Body Weight

Increases Hunger & Eating

You can blame hormones for this one. Not getting enough bedtime causes a deficiency in the hormone called leptin, which is what makes your body feel full. To make matters worse, it simultaneously increases the production of ghrelin, a hormone that stimulates the appetite.

Not only is your body’s system working against you, but if you’re up for more hours each day, it also makes sense that you’d be hungrier and eat more during waking hours. After all, you can’t eat while you’re asleep!

Poor Diet Choices

Studies show that people tend to make poorer choices when they did not have enough rest. It has to do with the way the brain wires itself when it’s deprived of restorative rest periods. The logic follows that if you’re more likely to exercise poor judgment, your food choices are likely to suffer as well.

Another reason people might binge on cookies and potato chips is due to crankiness and mood swings. Most of us are pretty grumpy when we’re tired, and when we’re not at our best and most positive selves, we might turn to comfort food and fatty carbs to make us feel better.

Less Physical Activity

Being tired during the day because you slept too little the night before means you’re less likely to be active. Tired people tend to watch television when they come home from work, not take a walk or hit the gym.

man is relaxing on couch and watching television

Low Body Temperature

People who are sleep-deprived have a slightly lower body temperature. When the body temperature drops, you require less energy output to maintain your bodily systems. Less energy expenditure equals lower calorie burn.

Slower Metabolism

When people skip the gym, make poor diet choices, and throw their hormones off balance, the result is a slower metabolism. If you’ve noticed that some people can eat whatever they want and still stay skinny, it’s because their metabolism is higher than average. If you’re not getting enough rest, you slow down your metabolism, making weight loss harder.

Connection Between Sleep Deprivation & Obesity

There are a few ways that these two conditions are linked.

Not getting enough rest disrupts your hormone levels. In turn, blood sugar and metabolism levels get thrown out of whack as well. Chronic deprivation can cause symptoms similar to diabetes to pop up.

In order to maintain normal levels of glucose, subjects in one study had to produce dramatically more insulin to maintain healthy blood sugar levels. The result is increased feelings of hunger without a corresponding increase in activity, which over time leads to weight gain.

Sleep deprivation also affects leptin levels, which is the hormone that makes you full. When this hormone drops, hunger and cravings tend to spin out of control. Studies have shown that the same signals in your brain that signal fatigue also signal hunger. So, by not resting properly you run the risk of misinterpreting your brain’s sleepy signal as a “feed me” one.

eating pizza

Frequently Asked Questions

Can obesity cause sleep apnea and sleep deprivation?

Yes, definitely! Sleep apnea is often associated with people who are overweight, especially if they carry the extra weight in their neck and torso area. The gravity effect fatigues the muscles and may cause them to “relax” at night, putting them at an angle that cuts off the airways.

Because this is characterized by waking up dozens, if not hundreds, of times per night, it’s no wonder that these conditions are all linked.

Does lack of sleep cause weight gain?

Indirectly, yes. But it’s not like a few all-nighters will automatically pack on the pounds. It’s more a matter of the effect that not sleeping has on your body. First of all, it makes you less likely to have the energy to exercise. Second, it affects hormones that control appetite and blood sugar. And third, being awake for more hours increases your likelihood of taking in more food.

There are a couple of other factors that influence the weight gain as well. Like we mentioned earlier, lack of rest rewires the brain for poor choices. Instead of being logical and making decisions that are best for long-term health benefits, sleep-deprived brains tend to operate in fight-or-flight.

Another side effect is throwing off the body’s circadian rhythm, or internal clock. Shift workers and people who goes to bed at irregular and inconsistent hours demonstrate a 15 to 30 percent higher risk of obesity.

tired woman is yawning in front of-a laptop

What is sleep apnea obesity hypoventilation syndrome?

This mouthful of a syndrome is also referred to as Pickwickian syndrome. It occurs in people who are extremely overweight, to the point that they’re unable to breathe deeply enough to take in enough oxygen. The result is higher levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the blood. It can even cause the patient to stop breathing periodically, hence the inclusion of sleep apnea in the name of this condition.

So how did the name Pickwickian come about? Apparently, it’s named after a Charles Dickens character, supposedly one from his first novel.

What is the best sleep position for obese people?

The most highly recommended position, regardless of weight, is on one’s back, but for those suffering from a condition like apnea, this is the absolute worst position. We recommend that obese people prop themselves up with a wedge pillow to keep their breathing unobstructed and prevent acid reflux.

An adjustable bed frame is another fantastic option. This allows for the benefit of back sleeping at an optimal angle. It also makes getting in and out of bed a lot easier for those who struggle with this task.


There are currently studies underway at Harvard to figure out if it can actually promote weight loss. We’ll keep you posted on the results!

In the meantime, here are a few tips to help prevent gaining weight:

  1. Make healthy meal choices. Easier said than done, right? Try to do the grocery shopping when you’re not feeling tired or grumpy. That way, when cravings and hunger strike, you’ll be surrounded by food that’s better for you.
  2. Get some exercise. It’s a battle of will to get started, but if you do it regularly, you’ll get better quality rest at night. If you’re too exhausted in the morning to get moving, try a lunch time walk or workout instead.
  3. Take stock of your sleeping patterns. Do you get the recommended seven to eight hours of shuteye every night? Do you wake up frequently or toss and turn? If you’re not sure if you’re getting quality rest each night, try a  tracker so you can measure how well you’ve slept.

More Readings:


  1. Sleep and obesity – NCBI
  2. Molecular ties between lack of sleep and weight gain – NIH
  3. Sleep Deprivation and Obesity – Harvard T.H. Chan

Sleep Advisor