Sleep Deprivation and Obesity

Sleep Deprivation and Obesity
Donna Hayek, RD


Sleep deprivation is defined as sleeping less than seven hours a night. In fact, people who get less than 5 hours of sleep per night increase their risk of obesity by 40%. Studies indicate that a lack of sleep is directly linked to weight gain, due to hormone fluctuations in the body, sodium retention, decreased exercise due to fatigue, and increased stress. And since these folks are sleeping less, they are awake more hours of the day and have more opportunities to consume calories. All of these factors are considered inflammatory.

Sleep deprivation has been associated with increased levels of the hormone ghrelin and decreased levels of the hormones leptin and insulin. This results in increased hunger, with prevalence of fats and carbohydrates. Leptin is released from the adipose tissue and acts on receptors in the hypothalamus in the brain where it inhibits appetite and promotes satiety thus limiting food intake. Leptin levels are proportional to body fat mass. Leptin is decreased with sleep deprivation. Ghrelin is released from the stomach and pancreas and stimulates appetite. Ghrelin is increased with sleep deprivation.

Since increased calories promote sleep, people will sometimes eat more calories late at night to get them to fall asleep. Short sleep duration leads to insulin resistance by raising cortisol levels and decreasing glucose utilization. In turn, this may compromise pancreatic beta-cell function, which can lead to diabetes. In addition, sleep deprivation reduces glucose tolerance and glucose effectiveness. Sleep restriction can also affect insulin secretion through its modulatory effects on leptin and ghrelin.

Other hormones that play a part in this cycle are thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) and free thyroxine (T4), which both are decreased when sleep is lost which corresponds to a reduction in metabolic rate.  In conclusion, the activation of the proinflammatory pathways represents a mechanism by which sleep habits affect health.


Choose anti-inflammatory foods:

  • Low in sugar (carbohydrates): Limit sweets, breads, rice, pasta, potatoes, cereals, breakfast bars, chips, fries
  • High in omega-3 fats: Fish such as salmon, tuna, trout, halibut, chia seeds, flaxseeds, walnuts
  • High in fiber: Fruits, vegetables, salads, beans, oatmeal, brown rice, wheat pasta, wheat or multigrain bread
  • High in vitamin-C: Citrus fruits, tomatoes, green leafy vegetables, avocados, cantaloupe, mangos, kiwi, papaya, peppers, pineapple, strawberries
  • Green tea and oolong tea
  • Soy: Soybeans, tofu, tempeh, soy milk, soy yogurt, edamame
  • Onions and garlic
  • Rosemary
  • Ginger
  • Cherries
  • Curcumin (turmeric)