Weight gain: Four nights of bad sleep are enough

Weight gain: Four nights of bad sleep are enough

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A lack of sleep can slow down the metabolism and lead to weight gain

Limiting sleep for just a few days changes the way we metabolize fats and how satisfied we are with a meal. This emerges from new studies conducted by researchers at Pennsylvania State University.

If we don't get enough sleep, according to Professor Orfeu Buxton of Pennsylvania State University (Penn State), we want to eat more than we need and store it as excess energy. "While this was a good evolutionary mechanism for storing energy for tough times, it is not as good in today's developed world, where we are relatively inactive and high-calorie foods are available cheaply and without physical exertion," he said Buxton in a message.

Less sleepy with food when lack of sleep

Buxton has contributed to previous research showing that restricting sleep changes insulin sensitivity. In the new study published in the "Journal of Lipid Research", the researchers now show that a higher insulin level after dinner leads to a faster release of lipids (fats) from the meal, which can then lead to weight gain.

To achieve these results, 15 healthy men had to sleep at the Clinical Research Center, Pennsylvania, for ten nights after sleeping at home ten hours a week for a week. During those nights in the lab, participants received a high-fat, high-calorie American chili and noodle meal, and then slept no more than five hours a night on four consecutive nights.

"Most of the participants said that they felt less satisfied after a meal with lack of sleep than when they ate the same meal rested," said Kelly Ness, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Washington, who started the study as a PhD student at Penn State headed.

Increased risk of various diseases

During meals, the researchers took blood samples from the participants and found that sleep restrictions led to higher insulin levels. Getting too little sleep throughout your life "can increase your risk of obesity, diabetes, or other metabolic disorders," said Ness.

The study ended with participants sleeping for ten hours on two consecutive nights, as on a weekend. Although participants' metabolic fat processing was somewhat better after a good night's sleep, they did not recover to healthy baseline levels after the second night; although their weight has returned to the initial values.

According to the authors, this suggests that complex metabolic shifts can occur after restricted sleep phases, and it explains how sleep deprivation and weight gain are related. The results are of particular relevance to public health and contribute to a growing number of documents that indicate that regular, healthy sleeping habits are an important way of life for well-being. (ad)

Author and source information

This text corresponds to the specifications of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.


  • Pennsylvania State University: Sleep deprivation may lead to slower metabolism, weight gain, (accessed: September 28, 2019), Pennsylvania State University
  • Journal of Lipid Research: Four nights of sleep restriction suppress the postprandial lipemic response and decrease satiety, (accessed: September 28, 2019), Journal of Lipid Research

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