There is more evidence that weight gain may be related in part to how much sleep patients get each night. On average, most patients are sleeping about 6.9 hours per night, and many individuals are sleeping less than six hours per night. This short sleep duration affects energy homeostasis and is a risk factor for a higher BMI.

In the largest study of it’s kind to date, Namni Goel, PhD, of the Division of Sleep and Chronobiology at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine, and colleagues enrolled 255 adults in a laboratory-controlled study to assess how sleep restriction affects weight.

Those who were sleep-restricted gained more weight than the control subjects, the researchers found. Calorie consumption did not vary significantly across protocol days in the control group; however, patients in the sleep-restricted group had a significant increase in caloric intake between baseline and sleep restricted days.

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Males gained more weight than females, and black males gained the most weight overall. The weight gain was mostly due to extra consumption of calories, as well as eating during late hours.

In other studies, sleep restriction has been associated with greater consumption of carbohydrates and fatty foods, as well as increased snacking and greater daily caloric intake. During this study, the sleep-restricted individuals tended to eat more calories from fat when up late compared to calories consumed during regular morning, afternoon and evening hours.

Sleep researchers continue to learn more about sleep and its effect on weight, but there already seems to be an obvious connection. Remember to counsel your patients on the importance of getting the appropriate amount of sleep each night, especially those who may be overweight. Explain that they are otherwise likely to eat more food because they are awake for longer each day, and that they will be less satisfied with the food that they eat.

Sharon M. O’Brien, MPAS, PA-C, works at Presbyterian Sleep Health in Charlotte, N.C. Her main interest is helping patients understand the importance of sleep hygiene and the impact of sleep on health.


  1. Spaeth AM et al. SLEEP. 2013;36(7):981-990.