How Can Your Sleep Duration Affect Your Weight?

Kathleen Jade, Arivale Clinical Specialist, ND
Kathleen Jade
Arivale Clinical Specialist, ND

Beyond keeping you energized throughout the day, getting enough good-quality sleep is necessary to regulate many of your body’s systems, including your metabolic, immune and inflammatory, nervous, and hormonal systems. For this reason, sleep disorders, and sleep deficiency may either directly cause or aggravate many health problems.

One of the health problems studied in relation to sleep deficiency is obesity. This Fall, the American Heart Association published their first-ever statement on sleep. It made headlines for its comprehensive outline of what is currently known about sleep irregularities and obesity as well as other cardiometabolic and cardiovascular-related risk factors, including type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure. Much of their scientific statement was focused on reviewing the extensive epidemiological and clinical evidence linking habitual short sleep duration (sleeping less than seven hours per night) to obesity risk.

Studies consistently show that individuals who chronically get less than seven hours of sleep are more likely to be obese compared to those with normal sleep habits (generally seven to eight hours a night), according to the statement’s authors.1 When people are studied over years, habitual short sleepers are more likely to gain weight and to have increased waist circumference and percent body fat compared with normal-duration sleepers.1

Deficient sleep is linked to increased food intake, particularly from fat and snacks, despite little change in energy expenditure, leading to a positive energy balance (excess calories).1 Exactly why this occurs is unknown, but the statement authors list multiple reasons that habitual short sleep duration may lead to weight gain and obesity over time.1

These include:

  • Increased insulin resistance and decreased insulin sensitivity;
  • Impaired judgment and decision making, which could presumably alter food choice;
  • Fatigue and tiredness, which could result in decreased physical activity;
  • Alterations in appetite-regulating hormones, particularly leptin and ghrelin, and;
  • Alterations in the brain’s neuronal reward networks.

At Arivale, sleep is never ignored as a key aspect of a member’s wellness. Whether the short sleep duration is due to a sleep disorder such as insomnia—or simply to a lack of prioritizing sleep as part of a healthy lifestyle—we work with members to optimize their sleep using evidence-based diet and lifestyle changes.

One technique we often recommend to members who struggle to get enough sleep is practicing “sleep hygiene.” This practice, recommended by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and other professional organizations, involves small habits throughout the day, such as limiting exposure to bright light in the evenings, that might help promote more restful and restorative sleep.2

  1. St-Onge, Marie-Pierre, et al. “Sleep Duration and Quality: Impact on Lifestyle Behaviors and Cardiometabolic Health: A Scientific Statement from the American Heart Association.” Circulation (2016): CIR-0000000000000444.
  2. “Healthy Sleep Habits.” Sleep Education. American Academy of Sleep Medicine. Web. 7 Nov 2016.