Does sleep loss cause weight gain?

Doctors have long known that excess weight leads to sleep loss.  And now, scientists are asking the reverse:  Does sleep loss cause weight gain.?

The answer they’re finding is, yes.  Sleep problems in and of themselves can pile on the pounds. Yes, it’s a vicious cycle.  You put on weight, so you don’t sleep as well as you used to, so you put on more weight. Oy.

There are several metabolic reasons why sleep loss induces weight gain. One key reason involves two hormones – leptin and ghrelin. If you’re not getting enough sleep, your leptin levels go down, which is a problem because leptin does good things for us – it suppresses appetite.

Ghrelin does just the opposite – it stimulates appetite – and sure enough, this is the hormone that increases when our hours of sleep decrease.

Another problem: A lot of us are not even aware we’re having sleep difficulties. Oh sure, we know our sleep habits aren’t the best. Some of us get up every two hours to go to the bathroom. Others keep bedmates awake with snoring. Some of us wake up in the wee hours of the morning with busy brains, contemplating the next day. “Will Johnny pass his algebra test?” “Will I seal the deal at work? What happens if I don’t?”

Are any of these real sleep issues? Something to be concerned about? Something we can (and should) be treated for? It’s not unlike an alcohol drinker who asks, “Have I become a problem drinker? If so, what do I do?”

How sleepy are you?

To help you determine just how sleep deprived you are, doctors often use the questionnaire below, called the Epworth Sleepiness Scale. It asks:

How likely are you to doze off or fall asleep in the following 8 daily-life situations?

Score yourself with the following values:

0 = no chance
1 = slight chance
2 = moderate chance
3 = high chance

8 Daily-life Situations:


1. Sitting and reading
2. Watching television
3. Sitting inactive in a public place
4. Passenger in a car for an hour without a break
5. Lying down to rest in the afternoon
6. Sitting and talking to someone
7. Sitting quietly after lunch without alcohol
8. Stopped in a car for a few minutes in traffic

Total Score:



If you scored 9 or more, chances are you have a sleep problem.

If you have a sleep problem, the last thing you should do is sleep on it.

It’s vital – indeed, life-saving – that you consult your doctor or a sleep specialist. In addition to weight gain, sleep deprivation causes fatigue, anxiety, depression, headaches, memory changes, and may also be a sign that you have sleep apnea, which is linked to very serious health problems, including high blood pressure, diabetes, strokes, and heart attacks.

The Good News

Many sleep problems can improve tremendously. “Sleep apnea and other sleep problems are usually very amenable to simple and highly effective therapy,” affirms Dr. Ronald Scheib, MD, cardiologist and Medical Director at the Pritikin Longevity Center & Spa in Miami, Florida.

Pritikin’s Sleep Services Program was established because “many primary-care doctors don’t have the time or training needed to tease apart all the contributing factors and conditions of sleep problems. Hence, millions of Americans lose sleep every night and very few are properly diagnosed,” explains Dr. Scheib.

“We also live in a society that routinely tells us it is OK to sleep less –– and to not sleep too much –– or we will miss out on something, a notion that is unhealthy and dangerous.”

At the Pritikin Longevity Center, Dr. Scheib and colleagues take ample time to listen to patients and fully investigate sleeping issues, as well as conduct state-of-the-art testing. “Our goal,” sums up Dr. Scheib, “is to provide solutions to sleep problems in a personal and efficient manner and in the context of a positive change in patients’ lifestyles.”

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