Sleep loss leads to body fat gain

Sleep loss leads to body fat gain

Does lack of sleep lead to increased body fat?

We previously discussed the topic of sleep in our article sleep the overlooked factor. We discovered then that lack of sleep had negative consequences for performance and produces a hormonal profile which leads to greater appetite and cortisol production which could predispose those sleeping too little to increased body fat storage especially around the abdomen. A recent study (1) examined the association between sleep duration, energy, and food intake in female adults.

Methods: Thirty Greek women between 30-60 years in age were recruited and their height, weight, skinfold measurements, waist and hip circumferences were measured. Each woman completed a sleep habits questionnaire and seven day sleep diary to assess sleep duration. Two 24 hour dietary recall interviews were used to assess nutritional intake.

Results: Increasing sleep duration had a negative association with body fat percentage with each one hour decrease in sleep being associated with a 2.8% increase in body fat percentage when the effects of age and energy intake were held constant. A weak positive association was found between sleep duration and saturated fat but there was no correlation with visceral deposition, energy intake or preference for fat or carbohydrate consumption.

Conclusion: The researchers concluded that the study demonstrated a negative association of sleep duration and body far percentage but no impact between sleep duration and increased energy intake or carbohydrate consumption.

Our Comments

Although this study failed to show a link between lack of sleep and increased preference for carbohydrates unlike an earlier one we studied in our article on sleep (2), it did support previous research showing a link between a lack of sleep and increased body fat levels. When we consider that the effects on body fat occurred despite an absence of increased energy intake in those sleeping less, it is possible this could be attributed to the negative hormonal profile associated with a lack of sleep driving processes in the body which lead to greater fat storage. On the other hand, the use of a dietary recall is an imprecise way to determine actual nutritional intake so it is possible that these sleep deprived women may have eaten more but omitted to mention this in their interviews. Given the high margin of error in this type of dietary recall interview we cannot rely on this study to say that lack of sleep does not drive people to greater food consumption especially in light of other, more rigorous studies conducted in this area (3).

The conclusion remains the same though which is that whether it is driven primarily via hormonal processes such as increased cortisol and lowered growth hormone and catecholamine production, or via increased food consumption, a lack of sleep produces a negative impact on body fat percentage. If you haven’t already begun to pay attention to sleep duration and quality, this study is another to underline the importance of sleep for athletes and dieters for whom a low body fat percentage is a goal.

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1. Rontoyanni VG (2007): Association between nocturnal sleep duration, body fatness, and dietary intake in Greek women.
2. Bhanot  JL, Chhina GS, Singh B, Sachdeva U, Kumar VM; REM Sleep Deprivation and Food Intake. Indian J Physiol Pharmacol. 1989 Jul-Sep;33(3):139-45. – Department of Human Biology, Punjabi University, Patiala.
3. K Spiegel, E Tasali, P Panev, E Van Cauter; Brief Communication: Sleep Curtailment in Healthy Young Men Is Associated with Decreased Leptin Levels, Elevated Ghrelin Levels, and Increased Hunger and Appetite. Annals of Internal Medicine

© 2012, Reggie Johal. All rights reserved.