Categories: Sleep Science

Sleep Studies Part 3: Weight Gain and Sleep

When people are sleep deprived, they tend to eat more, which causes them to gain weight. This was the finding of a fresh study conducted at the University of Colorado, Boulder that was published online in Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences journal.

“Just getting less sleep, by itself, is not going to lead to weight gain,” lead study author Kenneth Wright, director of CU-Boulder’s Sleep and Chronobiology Laboratory said. “But when people get insufficient sleep, it leads them to eat more than they actually need,” Wright noted.

Weight Gain and Sleep Study Details

As part of the research, Wright and his team studied 16 adults — all of which were healthy, lean, and young.  The participants lived for 14 days at the University of Colorado Hospital. Here, they stayed in a “sleep suite”, complete with monitoring, quiet, and regulated lighting. The monitoring included measurements of the energy expended based upon the carbon dioxide and oxygen they were breathing out and in, respectively.

The participants of the study were split into two distinct groups. One group was permitted to sleep up to nine hours, while the other was restricted to sleep only five hours a night. Both groups were offered meals, along with snack choices ranging from healthy fruits and yogurt to more unhealthy snacks, such as potato chips and ice cream. The groups switched sleep permissions after five days.

Weight Gain and Sleep Study Results

Here’s the good news. The participants that were restricted to five hours of sleep per night, burned more calories than their nine hour a night sleep counterparts. However, there’s bad news. The sleep-deprived subjects displayed less self-control when making food intake choices than the participants who had the recommended hours of sleep.

In addition, women in the well-rested group, showed more food restraint than men in the same group. The men gained weight even though they were getting plenty of good sleep.

While the people in the five hours or fewer group ate smaller meals at breakfast, they also ate more after-dinner, late-night snacks, eating before bed, than the nine hours of sleep group. In fact, the calories consumed as part of the late-night snack calculated to more calories than any other meal for the shortened sleep group. As a whole, the shortened-sleep group burned five percent more energy than those who slept nine hours a night, but they also consumed six percent more calories.

Here’s the kicker though:  Both women and men gained weight when they were restricted to only five hours of sleep a night. In just five days, subjects in the shortened sleep group gained nearly two pounds.

All-in-all, sleeping shortened hours, led to eating more, eating later, and weight gain.

Significance of the Weight Gain and Sleep Study

Since many people in the United States are under chronic sleep deprivation, it really is no surprise that our waistlines are increasing  as is the number on the scale. As much as 33 percent of workers in the U.S. say they get six or less hours of sleep per night. The current recommendation is seven to nine hours.

So, the next time the freezer is calling out to you for some late night Haagen Daz ice cream, you might not deep down want the treat at all. All you might need is a bit more shut eye.

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Amber Merton

Amber Merton is an accomplished writer on the topics of green living and sleep. Her work has been covered in numerous online publications. Amber has been a regular author on the PlushBeds blog for the past 7 years.

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