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Manny Erlich

International Foundation of Employee Benefits - Certified Employee Benefits Specialist

The Dramatic Correlation between Lack of Sleep and Weight Gain

Written by Manny Erlich. Posted in Sleep Disorder News & Research

weight gain

It’s a viscous cycle: Weight gain and obesity can cause you to lose sleep. Loss of sleep can trigger weight gain and contribute to high blood pressure depression, heart disease, stroke, diabetes and cancer.

There are 2 hormones that are affected by sleeplessness that affect weight gain. Ghrelin triggers appetite and food preferences. Leptin tells your body when you’ve had enough to eat. Without enough sleep, ghrelin production increases, even as leptin is reduced. The appetite kicks into high gear. Worse, your body craves foods high in fat, sugar, carbs and salt—junk food.

It’s estimated that as many as 40 million Americans are suffering from the effects of sleep deprivation. Kids are at even greater risk than adults of long term weight gain. Sleep deprived children are 2.5 times more likely to become obese than those who get the recommended daily sleep, according to recent findings by Massachusetts General Hospital. Though the hormonal changes from sleep deprivation in children is the same as those in adults, fat acquired in childhood is much harder to lose and can foster a lifetime of weight gain.

Daily exercise can restore hormonal balance and help lose the unwanted poundage, but the sleep-deprived are often too exhausted to exercise.

Sleep Apnea

One of the most profound effects of obesity or weight gain can be obstructive sleep apnea, which causes airway collapse and blockage during sleep. Obstructive sleep apnea repeatedly closes the muscles in throat’s airway passage, triggering breathing pauses or shallow breathing. Sleep apnea prevents a deep restful sleep, and further contributes to weight gain.


Sleep apnea surgery of the jaw or tissues attempts to correct night time breathing. But it’s only about 40% effective, improving the condition but not eliminating it, notes Dr. Belen Esparis of Mt. Sinai’s Sleep Center.

There are ways to treat sleep apnea without invasive surgery. These begin with a physician’s referral to a medical sleep remediation center, such as those at Mt. Sinai, the University of Miami or one of the Baptist Sleep centers. The patient spends the night, during which his sleep time status is monitored and his breathing pattern, limb movement and blood oxygen levels are analyzed. The recommended treatment is often a CPAP mask, which delivers properly regulated bursts of air into the airway during sleep, keeping it open. “They have become lighter and smaller,” notes Dr. Esparis.

The best cure, he advises though, is the one that “breaks the vicious cycle and normalizes the metabolism” — creating lifestyle changes that promote weight loss, restore hormonal balance and ensure a good night’s sleep.