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March 2013

Lack of Sleep May Cause Weight Gain

New research suggests that insufficient sleep may result in increased food intake and weight gain.

Sleep disorders occur when an individual has problems with his/her sleep cycle. As a result, it may take patients longer to fall asleep, patients may wake up during the night, wake up early, they may fall asleep throughout the day, have severe nightmares (called night terrors), act out their dreams, or stop breathing during sleep. Most sleep disorders can be managed with lifestyle changes and/or medications. High workplace stress or long work hours may also result in insufficient sleep.

In a recent study, researchers evaluated 16 adults throughout a fifteen-day inpatient study. Each participant experienced five consecutive nights of insufficient sleep to mimic the effects of a long work week. Researchers then reviewed data on food consumption and energy expenditure during days of inadequate sleep and compared results to those from nights of adequate sleep.

The researchers found that when participants received insufficient sleep, their food consumption increased beyond what was needed for normal energy balance. The authors noted that consumption increased particularly at night after eating dinner. Furthermore, insufficient sleep resulted in an average weight gain of 0.82 kilograms. Additionally, lack of sleep affected women more than men. Weight was maintained in women who received adequate amounts of sleep, but increased during nights of insufficient sleep.

Many integrative therapies have been studied for their potential effects on sleep. In older adults, music may result in significantly better sleep quality as well as longer sleep duration, greater sleep efficiency, shorter time needed to fall asleep, less sleep disturbance and less daytime dysfunction. There is also evidence of benefit in elementary-age children or stable preterm infants. Music therapy may also be as effective as chloral hydrate in inducing sleep or sedation in children undergoing EEG testing.

For more information about integrative therapies with evidence of benefit for sleep quality, please visit Natural Standard's Comparative Effectiveness Database.

To comment on this story, please visit Natural Standard's blog.


  1. Markwald RR, Melanson EL, Smith MR, et al. Impact of insufficient sleep on total daily energy expenditure, food intake, and weight gain. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2013 Mar 11. 
  2. Natural Standard: The Authority on Integrative Medicine.

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