Issue: April 2012
March 15, 2012
2 min read

Sleep deprivation may increase caloric intake

Issue: April 2012
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Epidemiology and Prevention/Nutrition, Physical Activity and Metabolism 2012

Results of a recent study demonstrate that lack of sleep is associated with increased caloric intake, but no change in energy expenditure.

The small study included 17 participants aged 18 to 40 years. Participants completed 1 week of home actigraphy and a 3-night acclimation phase before random assignment to sleep deprivation, defined as two-thirds of participants' normal sleep time (n=8), or a control group, for which participants slept as they normally would (n=9). Researchers collected blood samples, calculated caloric intake and assessed energy expenditure throughout the study period.

Participants ate as much as they wanted during the study. Sleep duration during the acclimation period averaged 6.5 hours, but decreased to 5.2 hours per day in the sleep-deprived group. The sleep-deprived group consumed an average of 549 additional calories per day compared with 143 fewer calories per day in the control group (P<.01). Activity energy expenditure did not change in either group during the study (1.2% vs. 8.4%; P=.68). Results showed an increase in leptin (8.4% vs. -9.8%; P=.12) and a decrease in ghrelin (-4.9% vs. 4.6%; P=.38) in the sleep-deprived group. The researchers said changes in leptin and ghrelin may be a consequence rather than a cause of overeating.

The data were presented at the American Heart Association's Epidemiology and Prevention/Nutrition, Physical Activity and Metabolism 2012 Scientific Sessions.

"Sleep deprivation is a growing problem, with 28% of adults now reporting that they get 6 or fewer hours of sleep per night," study researcher Andrew D. Calvin, MD, MPH, cardiology fellow and assistant professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn., said in a press release. "Larger studies of people in their home environments would help confirm our findings."

For more information:

Disclosure: Dr. Calvin reports no relevant financial disclosures.


This is a small study conducted in a tightly controlled setting where researchers monitored sleep, food intake and energy expenditure. It is extremely well done in that regard, but fairly small to make inferences to the larger population. It does provide some interesting findings, specifically that when patients are sleep-deprived, which was about 1 hour and 20 minutes less sleep a night, they increased their caloric intake by more than 500 calories a day. What this tells me is if patients are sleep-deprived they are more likely to eat more because of the sleep deprivation. Physicians should be aware of the link between sleep deprivation and obesity. Any kind of dieting or physical activity regimen a patient goes on to lose weight may be even harder to adhere to if they are sleep-deprived.

– Donna Arnett, PhD
President-Elect, American Heart Association;
Professor and Chair of Epidemiology,
University of Alabama-Birmingham

Disclosure: Dr. Arnett reports no relevant financial disclosures.