Sleep Restriction Increases Hunger

What if I told you there was a pill that could improve your memory and productivity? The same pill has been shown to increase muscle mass and decrease body fat. It has even been shown to improve  mood and decrease anxiety. Would you be interested in this supplement? Well guess what, it is free! We can take the supplement every single night, but most of us don’t. The supplement I am referring to is sleep.

Losing weight and getting in shape is very challenging for the everyday person, especially in America where work comes first and sleep comes second. We are encouraged to burn the midnight oil and told that that sleep is for the weak. Unfortunately, this couldn’t be further from the truth. According to Matthew Walker, a sleep neuroscientist and author of Why We Sleep,  “the shorter your sleep, the shorter your life. The leading causes of disease and death in developed nations—diseases that are crippling health-care systems, such as heart disease, obesity, dementia, diabetes, and cancer—all have recognized causal links to a lack of sleep.”

The National Sleep Foundation  recommends we sleep 7-9 hours a night. But according to the CDC, 1 in 3 adults don’t get the recommended amount. For the last 50 years, sleep has been on a steady decline and obesity has been on a steady climb. Research has shown a direct link between obesity and sleep deprivation, but why?

To figure out the link between sleep restriction and obesity, Andrea Spaeth and colleagues performed the following study: Effects of Experimental Sleep Restriction on Weight Gain, Caloric Intake, and Meal Timing in Healthy Adults. The study included 225 healthy adults, with 198 of them participating in the sleep restriction group and 27 of them in the control group (normal sleep). The sleep restricted group slept four hours per night for five nights, while the control group slept 10 hours each night. In addition to the sleep restriction, the subjects in both groups were not allowed to exercise, but they did have access to books,television, and video games. Also, the subjects were encouraged to eat as little or as much as they wanted throughout the day. By the end of the study, the sleep restricted group had gained significantly more weight compared to the control group (1). This is evident in the graph below:

As you can see from the graph, the sleep restricted group gained 2.2 lbs versus the control group. Now, this may not seem significant, but the weight gain occurred in only five days. What if the study was extended for a month, or even a year?

Sleep restriction increase hunger

The authors of the study believe that the delayed bedtime led to a higher calorie intake through increased meal frequency, but not through increased portion size.The scientists aren’t sure exactly why the meal frequency increased, but they hypothesized that it could be due to the hunger hormone ghrelin. Generally speaking, when we are restricted from sleep (less than 7 hours) our ghrelin levels increase causing a spike in hunger(1). This spike in ghrelin could be the reason for the increased  meal frequency and ultimately the increase in weight gain. The authors from the study stated:

”Subjects consumed additional calories during the late-night period when they remained awake...We also observed an increase in the proportion of calories from fat during late-night hours; this increase may be particularly contributory to weight gain”

Sleep deprivation will only increase the risk for weight gain and obesity. In a society where food is available 24/7, we should do everything in our power to reduce our hunger.  The study shows a lack of sleep will increase our hunger hormones and persuade us to consume more calories than we need. Therefore, we should put a greater emphasis on sleep . The human body is extremely complex. There are many questions that we don’t know the answers too, but we know for certain that adequate sleep (7-9 hours) helps control hunger.  So turn off the Netflix, and get some rest.


erik rokiskyComment