Too Little Sleep, Too Many Calories

Sleep deprivation makes men hungrier and women feel less full

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

(RxWiki News) Do you find yourself raiding the fridge more often after not getting enough sleep? You're not alone. Too little sleep and overeating are linked.

But the reasons are complex. A recent study found that the reason men and women eat more calories when sleep deprived is different.

But the evidence still shows that not enough sleep can lead to eating too many calories.

"Get enough sleep."

The study, led by Marie-Pierre St-Onge, PhD, of the New York Obesity Nutrition Research Center at St. Luke's/Roosevelt Hospital in New York City, aimed to find out precisely how individuals' hormones are affected by not getting enough sleep.

The study was very small, involving only 27 men and women, aged 30 to 45, who were of normal weight and who usually sleep about 7 to 9 hours every night.

For the study, the participants participated in two 4-day inpatient stays. The participants ate the same controlled diet during both stays.

During one study period, they were only given four hours to sleep each night. In the other, they were given nine hours to sleep each night.

The researchers measured their blood sugar levels on an empty stomach and took blood samples throughout the fourth day of both study periods to measure their glucose (blood sugar), insulin, leptin, ghrelin and other hormones.

Leptin is the hormone that controls whether a person feels full and satisfied. Ghrelin is the hormone that controls a person's appetite and whether they feel hungry. Insulin regulates sugars in the body.

The researchers found that not getting enough sleep did not appear to affect insulin resistance in the participants. Insulin resistance is the first step toward developing diabetes.

However, as past research has shown, not getting enough sleep did change hormones in the body in ways that would make it more likely for people to overeat when sleep deprived.

The interesting finding was that the hormones were affected differently in men versus women.

In men, the short amount of sleep increased their ghrelin levels, which means it increased the men's appetite and made them feel hungrier.

However, this did not happen in the women. In women, a different hormone called glucagon-like peptide 1 (GLP-1) was decreased when they did not get enough sleep.

GLP-1 is a gut hormone that stretches out the absorption of carbohydrates so that a person feels full for longer. If these levels are decreased, a person does not feel as full and satisfied for as long.

Both these conditions can lead a person to eat more food when they have been deprived of sufficient sleep.

"The bottom line is that there is indication that short sleep duration does have an effect on our food consumption," said William Kohler, MD, the director of the Florida Sleep Institute in Spring Hill, Florida.

The fact that men may overeat because they're hungry while women may overeat because they feel less full becomes less important if both are taking in more calories than they should.

The study was published October 31 in the journal Sleep. The research was funded by the National Institutes of Health, and Cabot Cheese and Almond Board of California both provided cheese and almonds for the meals in the study. The authors indicated no conflicts of interest.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
October 29, 2012
Last Updated:
November 2, 2012