SleepNet / BreatheNet

Can poor sleep make you fat?

Several studies published in the past decade have focused on the association between reduced sleep and weight gain in healthy individuals and in in particular in middle aged woman.

Some possible explanations for this include:

  • Sleep deprivation causes fatigue which may result in decreased physical activity. Let’s face it, who wants to exercise when they are tired?
  • Shorter sleep time allows for more time to eat. Added to this, the snacks of preference are normally high in calories – biscuits, sweets, potato crisps.
  • Reduced sleep messes with our important sleep hormones. Leptin, the “I am full” hormone, is reduced and Ghrelin, the “I’m still hungry” hormone is increased.

Too much sleep may not be the best answer, as it’s not just the quantity of sleep, but the quality of sleep that is important. So, how much sleep is enough? The American Association of Sleep Medicine (AASM) recommends just over 8 hours of sleep per night for a healthy adult.

To ensure a good night’s sleep here are a few things to remember:

  • Avoid caffeine in the afternoon. Caffeine has been shown to keep you in the lighter stages of sleep which may result in the body not getting the real rest it needs.
  • Watch what you eat before bed. Avoid rich, heavy, large meals. Your digestive system will need to keep working to process this food which may result in heartburn and disrupted sleep
  • Turn off all screens. TV’s, tablets and cell phones. More and more studies are highlighting the negative effect of this blue light on our brains and our ability to switch off from the day’s activities.

If after a full night’s sleep, you are still feeling tired, it is advisable to see your doctor. He may request a sleep study be performed. Medical aids do generally pay for sleep studies and these can be performed in the comfort of your own home or in a dedicated sleep laboratory.


Lyytikäinen P, Rahkonen O, Lahelma E, Lallukka T. Association of sleep duration with weight and weight gain: a prospective follow-up study. J Sleep Res. 2011 Jun. 20(2):298-302.

Moe KE. Reproductive hormones, aging, and sleep. Semin Reprod Endocrinol. 1999. 17(4):339-48. 

Owens JF, Matthews KA. Sleep disturbance in healthy middle-aged women. Maturitas. 1998 Sep 20. 30(1):41-50..

Koo BB, Dostal J, Ioachimescu O, Budur K. The effects of gender and age on REM-related sleep-disordered breathing. Sleep Breath. 2008 Aug. 12(3):259-64. 

Ameratunga D, Goldin J, Hickey M. Sleep disturbance in menopause. Intern Med J. 2012 Jan 31. 

WebMed article, reviewed by Hansa D Bhargawa MD, April 30, 2013

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