The Importance of Sleep to Avoid Weight Gain

Craig Primack MD, FACP, FAAP, FOMA

It is recommended that the average person get 7-9 hours of sleep every night. When we get less than that, overall energy use increases (because we are more active when awake). The body compensates for this by increasing hunger and decreasing metabolism. The increase in hunger leads to increased food intake and the decreased metabolism leads to a surplus of calories. Weight loss programs can help to maintain healthy sleeping patterns.

What Makes Up Metabolism?

Metabolism is made up of 3 components:

  1. Resting Metabolic Rate (RMR) – 60-70% of metabolism
  2. Diet Induced Thermogenesis (DIT) – 10% of metabolism
  3. Physical Activity (exercise) – variable effect on metabolism

Decreased Sleep; Increased Weight Gain

Several studies have looked at metabolism for the combination of decreased sleep and increased hunger. The increased energy needed for one night of total sleep deprivation is about 135 calories. The decrease in metabolism is about 100 calories per day. This is in addition to the ~500 calories that the increase in hunger causes us to eat.

The total net increase in calories is about 535 calories per night of lost sleep and will lead to weight gain. If we estimate the average pound of fat to be worth at least 3,500 calories, a person who completely misses sleep for seven nights would gain over one pound of fat.

Studies Show…

In a recent study, sleep restricted patients gained an average of 2.88 lbs after 5 nights of sleep deprivation (less than 4 hours). When looking at metabolism, it was the RMR that significantly decreased leading to weight gain. Although the decrease was small (about 50 calories per night), the increase in hunger caused patients to eat 35% more calories than needed.

In conclusion, sleep and weight gain are linked! It is important to get at least seven hours of restorative sleep to increase metabolism and decrease hunger. If you are not achieving this goal, consider starting a weight loss program or seeing a sleep specialist.

Reference: Resting Metabolism Rates Vary by Race and By Sleep Duration. Spaeth et al. Obesity Vol. 23(12), Dec 2015

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