Proper Sleep is Important in Avoiding Weight Gain and Obesity

person lying on inflatable unicorn during daytime

Many people look at healthy eating as a way to lose weight. Although healthy eating is a critical component of a healthy life style and maintaining an optimal weight there are many factors to consider.

Sleep, which is often overlooked, is important to maintaining a healthy optimal weight. The busy North American lifestyle, the urgency to get ahead and the pressure from friends and peers to become involved in one activity or another keeps us moving but not healthy.

The basics of good health have been neglected and forgotten. Eating high fiber meals has been replaced with empty calorie foods. Water has been replaced with sugar filled specialty coffees, soft drinks and juices. Exercise has been replaced with the TV and the internet. Adding to all this, the chaotic North American lifestyle has been attacking sleep patterns.

If you stand on any street corner in North America and look around you see people rushing in every direction. It reminds me of looking down on an ant colony and seeing the little creatures rushing past each other, climbing over each other only to be replaced at the beginning of the new season with other busy bodies.

We have developed a 24/7 lifestyle where we can do almost anything at all times of the day but this is depriving us of good health and may be making us fat.

Sleep and Obesity

Our busy lifestyle has created a number of problems including consumption of unhealthy foods, no exercise regimes, a lack of sleep and obesity. The signs are everywhere. Have you even been on a public transportation system and noticed the number of people asleep around you?

Have you ever noticed how obesity has crept into our society? Next time you are in a shopping center, take a look and notice the number of individuals that are overweight. The busy North American lifestyle is causing havoc with our health.

During the past 40 years, the increase in body weight has paralleled the reduction in sleep time.

Daily sleep duration in the United States population has decreased by 1.5 to 2 hours, and the proportion of young adults sleeping less than 7 hours per night has more than doubled between 1960 and 2001–2002 (1).

With nearly one third of adults report sleeping less than 6 hours per night, North America may be a sleep deprived society (2).

Many people are unaware that sleep is a necessary part of maintaining a healthy optimal weight. Working long or irregular hours, staying up late to surf the internet or watch one more episode of your favourite television series may not only be leaving you tired but it may be pushing you towards weight gain.

Hormone Levels and Sleep

Part of the misconception between sleep and weight gain is the belief that all sedentary activities lead to weight gain. Many people believe that if they give up sleep and stay active, they will lose more weight. This does not appear to be the case.

The body uses sleep to recover from the activities of the day including returning the hormonal balance to a normal level. It has been discovered that short sleep intervals increase the appetite stimulating hormone ghrelin and reduce the satiety hormone leptin (3). What does that mean?

Basically, if you are not getting enough sleep, research suggests that you will feel hungry. Feeling hungry means eating more and eating more may result in weight gain and eventually obesity.

Just cutting back in sleep for two consecutive nights to four hours of sleep a night changes the hormone balance and results in feelings of hunger and appetite (4).

Imagine the impact that this can have over an extended time. Night and evening shift employees often fall into this category. Although the idea is to sleep during the day, any night shift worker will admit that it is hard to sleep while everyone else is awake.

Teenagers are also experience late night disturbances as a result of text messaging, emails, internet surfing and video games (5). Often these teens are woken during the night by a text message or email. Sleep deprivation does not only include the number of hours that a person sleeps but the quality of sleep.

At a stage of life where hormone balance is already fluctuating, sleep is critical for teenagers. These individuals are unknowingly leaving themselves subject to weight gain and obesity which is a major problem of epidemic proportions in the youth of North America.

Sleeping Requirements

Sleeping well includes the number of hour of sleep but also includes the quality of sleep. Disturbances such as being woken during the night, smoking and drinking in the evening and working shift work can all interfere with good sleep.

Although sleep is important for maintaining an optimal weight, sleeping too long is not good either. Individuals that sleep too much are also likely to gain weight (1), in part this is due to an inactive lifestyle. The risk of developing obesity, including fat and weight gain, is greater for adults sleeping less than five hours or those sleeping more than nine hours (1). Individuals sleeping seven to nine hours a night are less likely to show weight gain (1).

The number of hours of recommended sleep varies with age. The younger you are, the more sleep you require.

Suggested sleep times:

  • Newborns under 2 months: 12 to18 hours
  • Infants 3 months to 1 year: 14 to 15 hours
  • Toddlers 1 to 3 years: 11 to 13 hours
  • Children 5 to 12 years: 10 to 11 hours
  • Preteens, teens 12 to 18 years: 8.5 to 10 hours
  • Adults over 18: 7.5 to 9 hours

We have forgotten the importance of sleep and the purpose of sleeping. The hectic North American society pushes us to sleeping less, making unhealthy food choices, and sedentary way of life in front of computer monitors and televisions.


Committing to getting a good night’s sleep will not only make you feel better but will help you to avoid weight gain and obesity. Have a good sleep this evening and avoid gaining weight.



2. Bonnet M. H, Arand D. L. We are chronically sleep deprived. Sleep 1995; 18: 908-911.

3. Chaput J. P., L. Klingenberg, A. Sjodin. Sept 2010. Do all sedentary activities lead to weight gain: sleep does not. Department of Human Nutrition, Faculty of Life Sciences, University of Copenhagen, Copenhagen, Denmark. Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care.

4. Schmid, S.M., Hallschmidt, M., Jauch-chara, K., Born, J. And B. Schultes. 2008. A single night of sleep deprivation increases ghrelin levels and feelings of hunger in normal-weight healthy men. Journal of Sleep Research. Vol 17, 3; 331-334.