Healthy Weight

Lack of sleep may lead to more calories and weight gain

Are your efforts to lose weight or maintain a healthy weight backfiring? Lack of sleep, not lack of willpower, might be driving your desire to eat more. 

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania wanted to find out what happens to weight, calorie intake, and meal timing when people don't get enough sleep. A total of 225 people, ages 22 to 50, took part in the study. The subjects were assigned to either a sleep-deprived group (four hours of sleep per night over five days), or a non-sleep-deprived group. They were studied in a sleep lab for 12, 14, or 18 consecutive days.

As expected and consistent with other studies, the sleep-deprived people gained weight, ate more calories, and ate more often, particularly at night. Other studies have found that sleeping 6 hours or less in a 24-hour period is a linked to a higher body mass index. Eating more calories appears to be a way to compensate for sleep loss, although the reason is unclear. It is also known that teenagers who don't get enough sleep tend to eat larger portion sizes and more calories from fat.

The bottom line

Go to bed early and get the proper amount of sleep. It will help keep you from eating extra calories. If you have to stay up late and miss out on some sleep, be aware of what and how much you eat during those late night hours. Those extra calories can add up quickly to extra weight if you're not careful.

Sleep has other benefits

Read "Strategies on how to get a healthy night’s sleep " from the NIH.


Author: Courtney Cunningham, Nutrition student volunteer

Editor: Lona Sandon, M.Ed., R.D.N., Assistant Professor, Department of Clinical Nutrition