Short Sleep and Obesity: Part 3

Do you crave sweets? Addicted to carbs? Did you ever think sleep was to blame? As I continue to discuss the effects short sleep, I have to give a shout out to my partner for this project, fellow RD, Christine Scarcello. Christine took the lead on this topic and is a hard worker, so no all-nighters required around here;) Now I will continue to share with you evidence based research on the topic of obesity and sleep.

Irresistible sweet tooth? Keep reading!

It has been discovered that short sleepers consume higher energy (more calories) from snacks than normal sleepers.  Researchers found that a short sleep trial lead to the consumption of significantly more calories from snacks than when those same subjects obtained normal sleep.1 The researchers suggest that short sleep leads to more time awake and this “extended exposure to palatable food may have contributed to the observed increase in energy consumption”.1 In another study, short sleep was also associated with increased odds of consuming a sweet snack higher in carbohydrates, and the increase in snacking was more likely to occur later in the day.2 I know many people who start the day with the best of intentions, but then afternoon snacking and food choices derail their health goals. We see that not getting adequate sleep could be a factor in these scenarios.

Not only is snacking increased, but so are portion sizes. Short sleep also led to choosing larger portion sizes compared to normal sleep. Researchers found that subjects with a short sleep duration chose larger portions of snack sizes even after being satiated from consuming an adequate-calorie breakfast, as compared to during normal sleep trials.3 The mechanisms of how short sleep related to choosing larger portion sizes were speculated to be related to either “a homeostatic drive to compensate for nocturnal energy deficits” or non-homeostatic mechanisms, such as increased brain responses to palatable foods. Wow! Undoubtedly, the mechanisms are not completely understood at this point, and they are obviously complex. The best idea… get in those 8 hours of sleep!

Lastly, research has demonstrated that shortened sleep leads to brain response changes to food, including a 12% increase in finding food images appetizing and a 7% increase in total calorie consumption the next day as compared to normal sleep.4 The increases in appetite and calorie intake were linked to increased activation of the anterior cingulate cortex in response to food stimuli. The anterior cingulate cortex “is a unique part of the frontal cortex and plays a key role in the evaluation of different perceptual representations of food.”4 These changes have been seen among obese individuals.  Researchers suggest that “prolonged periods of staying awake lead to a greater reward response in anticipation of food.”4 Even your brain is thwarted by not getting enough sleep!

Again, I want to thank my partner Christine, who collected and organized this information and allowed me to share this paper with you all. You can catch up on the sleep series here:

Part 1: Changes in Appetite

Part 2: Increase in blood sugar AKA risk of diabetes!


Stay tuned as I continue the sleep series!



  1. Nedeltcheva AV, Kilkus JM, Imperial J, Kasza K, Schoeller DA, and Penev PD. Sleep curtailment is accompanied by increased intake of calories from snacks. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2009; 89(1): 126-133. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.2008.26574.
  2. Heath G, Roach GD, Dorrian J, Ferguson SA, Darwent D, Sargent C. The effect of sleep restriction on snacking behaviour during a week of simulated shiftwork. Accident Analysis and Prevention. 2011: 62-67. doi:10.1016/j.aap.2011.09.028
  3. Hogenkamp PS, Nilsson E, Nilsson VC, Chapma CD, Vogel H, Lundberg LS, Zarei A, Cedernaes J, Rangtell FH, Broman JE, Dickson SL, Brunstrom JM, Benedict C, Schioth HB. Acute sleep deprivation increases portion size and effects food choice in young men. Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2013; 38(9): 1668-1674. DOI: 10.1016/j.psyneuen.2013.01.012
  4. Benedict C, Brooks SJ, O’Daly OG, Almen MS, Morell A, Aberg K, Gingell M, Schultes B, Halfschmid M, Broman JE, Larsson EM, Schioth HB. Acute sleep deprivation enhanced the brain’s response to hedonic food stimuli. Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism. 2012; 97(3): 443-7. doi: 10.1210/jc.2011-2759

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