Understanding the link between partial sleep deprivation and energy imbalance may help a person prevent weight gain and even lose weight.

This finding, published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, came from a comprehensive analysis of research published over a 15-year period.

Over 35% of individuals in the United States are struggling with obesity and over 28% are getting insufficient sleep, less than 6 hours each night.

A previous study in the British Medical Journal indicated that young kids who do not get sufficient sleep have a significantly higher chance of becoming overweight. Another report, presented at SLEEP, suggested that adolescent obesity is linked to having less sleep, potentially due to higher caffeine intake or more hours of technology use.

In order to lose weight, people alter their lifestyles to focus more on nutrition and exercise. However, changes in a person's daily schedule, such as sleep behaviors, can also help control weight.

Sharon M. Nickols-Richardson, Ph.D., M.D., professor, Department of Nutritional Sciences, The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, and leading author, explained:

"Various investigations, although diverse, indicate an effect of partial sleep deprivation on body weight management. The intriguing relationship between partial sleep deprivation and excess adiposity makes partial sleep deprivation a factor of interest in body weight regulation, particularly in weight loss."

The experts set out to identify how partial sleep deprivation affects weight regulation and energy balance. They examined studies published between 1996 and 2011, and then formulated a series of relative tables describing:
  • study designs
  • individual study populations
  • energy expenditure
  • energy intake
  • measurements of the hormone ghrelin, insulin, leptin, cortisol, and glucose
After closely observing these characteristics, the team noticed a set of patterns among the partially sleep-deprived subjects:
  • increases in ghrelin
  • decreases in leptin
  • reduced insulin sensitivity
Energy intake among the study populations was altered by the changes in leptin and ghrelin, according to the researchers.

Dr. Nickols-Richardson concluded:

"Changes in these hormones coinciding with an energy-reduced diet paired with changes in response to partial sleep deprivation may be expected to increase ghrelin and decrease leptin concentrations even further to promote hunger."

The scientists pointed out that further studies need to be conducted to identify the role sleep deprivation has on body composition and substrate use. Observation of an individual's sleep patterns as well as getting an appropriate amount of sleep at night may help control a healthy weight, they added.

Written by Sarah Glynn